EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – The reports of the death of the UConn football program were greatly exaggerated.
Wyoming, a 29 ½-point favorite, did its best to bring the Huskies back to life before escaping with a 24-22 victory over UConn on Saturday at Rentschler Field.
The Cowboys scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a three-minute span and denied a 2-point conversion attempt by the Huskies (0-5) with 4 seconds left to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1996.
“I thought we were done with this cardiac stuff, but we’re not,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said after his team prevailed despite being flagged for 10 penalties totaling 99 yards. “All I know, it’s another W, and I’m pleased with it.”
UW rallied for last-minute wins over Montana State and Northern Illinois to open the season before dominating Ball State 45-12 last week at War Memorial Stadium.
This appeared to be the Pokes’ easiest game of the season on paper.
UConn had been outscored 146-21 in its three losses to FBS opponents and lost 38-28 to FCS Holy Cross.
The Huskies were averaging 12.3 points (127th) and 202 yards (129th) and giving up 46.0 points (128th) and 491.8 yards (125th) through their first four games.
UW dug a 13-0 hole, fought back to take a late eight-point lead and then hung on for dear life in the frantic final seconds.
Three pass-interference calls against the Cowboys – one against cornerback C.J. Coldon on a fourth-and-9, one against cornerback Azizi Hearn on a third-and-10 and one against safety Rome Weber in the end zone on fourth-and-8 – led to Nate Carter’s 2-yard touchdown run with :04 remaining.
Weber atoned for his sin by tipping the 2-point conversion pass to preserve the road win.
“Man, I’m just happy. We won,” defensive end Garrett Crall said. “It’s hard to go on the road and win. I don’t care what the team’s record is and what people talk about them. Unless you’ve been there and you’ve played a college football game on the road like that, you don’t understand what it’s like.
“That’s a game we would have lost in the past, and this year you see that resilient part. I’m just proud of the team. We’re 4-0, so you’ve got to smile about that.”
Trailing by six points and facing a third-and-7, Sean Chambers calmly stood in the pocket and completed a 23-yard pass to Ayden Eberhardt down to the 1-yard line.
The game was delayed after Eberhardt’s spectacular grab because the defender on the play, cornerback Myles Bell, suffered a gruesome lower-leg injury on the play.
Xazavian Valladay pushed his way over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys their first lead, 17-16, with 6:31 remaining.
Esaias Gandy intercepted UConn freshman quarterback Tyler Phommachanh on the next play from scrimmage to set up Titus Swen’s 2-yard touchdown as the Cowboys surged ahead 24-16 with 3:34 left.
“We played well enough to win, and that’s the main thing right there,” Chambers said after finishing 15-for-26 passing for 149 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. “Their record isn’t really indicative of how they play and their skill set. We knew they were going to come out and give us their best shot, and they did.
“Good teams find a way to win, and I think we have a good ball club.”
UW was called for a false start before the first snap of the second half, but Chambers threw an 8-yard completion to Eberhardt to move the sticks on third-and-5.
Then Chambers capped the six-play 69-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Neyor to cut the deficit to 13-10 with 10:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Solomon Byrd sacked Phommachanh for a seven-yard loss to spoil the Huskies’ ensuing drive.
After Chambers’ second turnover of the game, his counterpart connected with freshman wide receiver Aaron Turner for 19 yards on third-and-6 and 20 yards on third-and-9 to put the Cowboys on upset alert entering the fourth quarter.
After a 12-yard run by Carter and an 11-yard run on a reverse by Heron Maurisseau, the Huskies were on the verge of taking a two-score lead.
Weber sacked Phommachanh on third-and-goal at the 6 for a 12-yard loss to force UConn into settling for a 35-yard field goal and a 16-10 lead with 11:16 remaining.
“I definitely feel they gave us their best shot,” Gandy said. “We’re 4-0, so everyone is going to give us their best shot.”
The Cowboys trailed 13-3 at the end of the intermission after being flagged for six penalties totaling 70 yards.
Brian Brewton returned the opening kickoff 43 yards, and nickel back Keyon Blankenbaker was called for pass-interference on a third-and-3 to help the Huskies march down the field.
UConn, facing a fourth-and-inches at the UW 11-yard line, called timeout and decided to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Joe McFadden to take a 3-0 lead.
Chambers converted a third-and-10 with a completion to Neyor on the visitors’ first possession, but an offensive pass-interference call against Parker Christensen negated the play and led to a punt.
On UW’s second drive, John Hoyland was unable to tie the score when his 43-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright. It was the first miss of the season for the sophomore placekicker, who had made 16 of his previous 17 attempts dating back to his freshman all-American campaign.
An unnecessary roughness call against Coldon helped UConn’s offense stay on the field.
The Huskies faked an end-around and pitched the ball back to Phommachanh who connected with uncovered tight end Jay Rose for a 42-yard touchdown pass to make the score 10-0 with 1:25 remaining in the first quarter.
Chambers was intercepted by Bell moments later. Gandy countered with his own interception, but defensive tackle Ravontae Holt was called for roughing the passer on the play.
The penalty led to a 29-yard field goal by McFadden to extend the Huskies’ lead to 13-0 early in the second quarter.
“UConn came out really sharp, and then we did some uncharacteristic things,” Bohl said.
Chambers converted a third-and-10 by stretching the ball out for an 11-yard gain, and Valladay added a 27-yard run to finally get the offense in gear.
But a false start penalty on third-and-goal at the 2 led to an incompletion. Hoyland’s 24-yard field goal cut UW’s deficit to 13-3 with 4:44 remaining in the first half.
The Cardiac Cowboys regrouped during the intermission and found a way to throw dirt on UConn at the end of the dramatic game played about five miles from the Mark Twain House.
UW has an open date this week before opening Mountain West play on Oct. 9 at Air Force.
“I’m happy to be 4-0,” Bohl said. “We’re going to hop on the plane and get back to Laramie.”