MOSCOW, Idaho – Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith rolled right and looked toward the end zone. There was receiver Jalen Claiborne, only 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, streaking past 6-2 safety Trey Williams.
With the Vandals leading by three in overtime, Williams’ task was clear against the much smaller Claiborne: Time his jump correctly and he would have an easy deflection – or an interception to end the game.
He came away with neither.
An outstretched Claiborne brought the ball down over Williams, who sprained an ankle on the play, and the Cowboys spilled out onto the Kibbie Dome field to celebrate a 40-37 victory.
The sudden end to Saturday’s game only made the loss sting worse for Idaho, which dropped to 0-4 with a trip to North Carolina next week.
Moments earlier in front of 13,558 fans, the Vandals had tied the game on the final play of regulation. But they were undone by a string of lapses from the secondary and three lost fumbles on offense.
“It’s painful,” coach Robb Akey said. “Where we’re at, we’re talking about inches (from winning) – I mean, literally inches.”
Wyoming’s first victory of the season was due in large part to the return of Smith, a sophomore who passed for 365 yards and five touchdowns after missing last week with a head injury. He and receiver Chris McNeill (eight catches for 219 yards) consistently burned UI defensive backs.
The Cowboys constructed two scoring drives of at least 90 yards in the second half – one of which was aided by two Idaho personal fouls – and put together another 15-play march late in the fourth quarter to go ahead 34-27.
But the Vandals responded. Quarterback Dominique Blackman found Mike Scott twice on fourth down on Idaho’s last-ditch drive. Their second of two clutch connections came from 8 yards out as the clock expired, sending the game into overtime.
UI settled for a 49-yard field goal in the first possession of OT after Blackman was sacked on third-and-8. Then, on the Cowboys’ first play of the extra period, Smith ended the game by hooking up with Claiborne on the jump ball.
Blackman was 34 of 46 for 306 yards and three touchdowns. He stretched over the goal line for a rushing TD late in the first half – but it was his goal-line fumble early in the fourth quarter that gave the Cowboys life.
With the Vandals leading 27-20 and at Wyoming’s 2-yard line, Blackman tried to extend his arm into the end zone on a QB sneak. But the Cowboys easily poked the ball away and recovered it.
On the next play, Smith hit McNeill for an 80-yard bomb. And two plays later, the Cowboys scored on a 15-yard Smith pass to a wide-open Justin Berger in the middle of the end zone.
What could have been a 14-point Idaho lead became a tied game, 27-27.