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Cougars capture season opener in Wyoming

WSU defeated Cowboys on Saturday thanks to a strong second-half performance

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Redshirt junior running back James Williams breaks through defense for a gain of yards during a scrimmage Aug. 8 at Martin Stadium.

Redshirt junior running back James Williams breaks through defense for a gain of yards during a scrimmage Aug. 8 at Martin Stadium.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Redshirt junior running back James Williams breaks through defense for a gain of yards during a scrimmage Aug. 8 at Martin Stadium.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen assistant sports editor

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WSU football defeated the University of Wyoming 41-19 Saturday afternoon on the road in Laramie, Wyoming, for the team’s 2018 season opener.

If you never watched the second quarter, you would have thought this game was a blow out because in the second quarter the Cougars surrendered 14 points via turnovers making this one a little closer than the final stat sheet suggests.

“Things got a little frantic in the second quarter and I didn’t do a good job.” starting graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II said. “Then we regrouped at halftime, came out and scored on all four drives and I’m really proud of the way the team fought back and were really resilient today.”

Coming into the game,  a lot of discussion surrounded the altitude and the potential effect it would have on the Cougars. WSU Head Coach Mike Leach said the team was prepared for that challenge.

“Well we strategically have seasonal forest fires as we prepare for the season in the event we do find ourselves in altitude,” Leach said.

WSU couldn’t have had a better start to the opening game of the season, taking both of its opening drives for points.

On the very first drive of the game a 36-yard quick screen brought WSU into Cowboy territory but after the drive stalled, redshirt freshman kicker Blake Mazza would put his first career field goal through the uprights from 30 yards out.

After the Cougars forced a quick three-and-out, it was Minshew’s turn for a WSU career first. On a 10 play 63-yard drive, Minshew would toss his first touchdown of the game to redshirt junior running back James Williams from 2 yards out to give the Cougars a 10-0 lead.

WSU would force another three-and-out before the Cowboys made it interesting. After a three-and-out of their own, WSU’s punting unit lined up on its own 28-yard line and a bad snap from redshirt senior long snapper Kyle Celli resulted in a loss of 28 yards and a Cowboy safety, their first points of the game.

The defense for WSU then forced its third three-and-out of the game and got to the second quarter with the lead.

At the end of the first quarter, the Cougars defense had limited Wyoming to 9 total yards of offense.

The Cowboys turned up their defensive pressure in the second quarter. After WSU forced its third three-and-out, freshman running back Max Borghi would give the ball right back to Wyoming in Cougar territory.

The Cowboys would take full advantage of the turnover and turn it into six points on a five play 30-yard drive that would end with an 8 yard rushing touchdown from senior running back Nico Evans.

The Cougars responded well by turning their ensuing drive into three points off a 41-yard Mazza field goal to give WSU a little breathing room at 13-9, but that wouldn’t last very long.

Minshew would give the ball right back on a pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Tay Martin. With pressure in his face and throwing off his back foot, the pass was offline and ended up in the hands of Wyoming’s senior cornerback Antonio Hull.

With that interception, the Cowboys would convert their second takeaway into six points on a 23-yard end around rush to sophomore wide receiver Avante Cox who would get into the endzone to give Wyoming a three point lead.

Other than an interception from junior cornerback Marcus Strong, both teams would trade punts until the halftime whistle blew and the Cougars hobbled into the locker room down 13-16 and in need of regrouping.

When both teams returned from their locker rooms, it appeared that Wyoming had all the momentum and they would run with it.

But on the opening drive for the Cowboys, which looked all but destined to find the endzone, a dropped pass from Wyoming redshirt freshman tight end Mason Keeler on third and four forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal to make it 19-13.

The next series for the Cougars proved to be the pivotal drive of the game, where Minshew would refuse to give the ball back to the Cowboys even after a false start penalty on fourth and one.

With a fourth and six situation and a punt looking like the probable outcome, Leach kept his quarterback on the field and sure enough Minshew delivered with a first down completion off his back foot to sliding sophomore wide receiver Jamire Calvin.

The 10 play 75-yard drive would end with freshman running back Max Borghi making his first career touchdown reception. WSU took a 20-19 lead and wouldn’t look back.

Nearing the end of the third quarter and with just a one-point lead, the Cougars defense came up huge with a strip sack from redshirt freshman rush linebacker Willie Taylor III on third and four, resulting in a loss of 28 yards for the Cowboys.

Both teams would trade drives that resulted in punts, but it was an unsportsmanlike penalty on Wyoming that would force them to punt out of its own endzone.

This gave WSU the field position to set up a four play 48-yard scoring drive ending on a 7-yard endzone fade to redshirt junior wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. to give the Cougars an eight point lead.

Still just a one score game, Wyoming got the ball back and started to move the ball but they wouldn’t get farther than where they started after a sack from sophomore linebacker Dominick Silvels and a loss of 11 yards forced yet another punt from the Cowboys.

WSU took full advantage of another drive from good field position and this time Borghi would score his first rushing touchdown of his young career giving the Cougars a 34-19 lead.

The Cougars would find the end zone once more on a three-yard touchdown rush from redshirt junior running back James Williams, but it was Borghi’s touchdown run that put the proverbial nail in Wyoming’s coffin.

“I thought we were resilient [in] the second half,” Leach said. “I thought the first half we were trying to do too much, focused on trying to be perfect … but we did a good job not hesitating in the second half and I think that is a big step for us especially for this season.”

The clock would strike zero with the Cougars ahead 41-19. Now WSU will fly home and shift its focus to San Jose State University who they will face at 8 p.m. Saturday in Martin Stadium.

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Cougars capture season opener in Wyoming