DEKALB, Ill. – There was celebration and concern in the visiting locker room here at Huskie Stadium.
Wyoming, coming off an unpleasant 2-4 finish to the 2020 season, enjoyed the flight back to Laramie after improving to 2-0 with Saturday’s 50-43 victory over Northern Illinois.
Quarterback Sean Chambers ran for the decisive 9-yard touchdown with 95 seconds left a week after throwing the game-winning touchdown with 47 seconds left to beat Montana State.
The Cowboys’ comeback kid finished 13-for-23 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Chambers completed four passes to Isaiah Neyor for 87 yards, including a 30-yard completion on the final scoring drive.
Chambers also ran for 16 net yards, including a 7-yard scamper on third-and-6 that allowed the visitors to run the final seconds off the clock without having to punt the ball back to the Huskies.
“I’m really happy for Sean,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said. “I think he’s maturing as a quarterback, he’s learning how to get us in and out of plays. Certainly his legs are very effective. So many of the other throws were good. Obviously, the throw to Isaiah was a big-time throw there.
“He’s certainly the leader of our football team. Guys rally around him, and we’ll need for him to play better, but he did make improvement from (game) one to two.”
Xazavian Valladay added 101 yards rushing and a touchdown. However, the all-Mountain West first team running back was stuffed for a 4-yard loss on fourth-and-goal at the NIU 10-yard line.
UW’s first negative rushing play of the game was followed by three consecutive NIU touchdowns.
“The running backs ran hard,” Bohl said. “Our offensive line came off the ball and created some holes, our backs found those holes and that was a great impact. We did a great job dovetailing the passing game with those runs. That’s hard on the defensive guys.”
Titus Swen added 54 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Cowboys finished with 191 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.
On the flip side, UW’s defense allowed 244 net rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Harrison Waylee finished with 179 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard score moments after Valladay was stopped in the red zone. Bruising fullback Clint Ratkovich added 63 yards and three scores.
Through two weeks, the Pokes rank 97th in the FBS in rushing yards allowed (182.5 per game) and 90th in total yards allowed (399.0 per game).
“That’s not our Cowboy defense really in the end,” linebacker Chad Muma said after another stellar individual performance. “So we’re going to get it corrected this week, look through film and see what we can do better. I think there were a lot of things we had missed opportunities on that should have just shut it down.”
UW intercepted quarterback Rocky Lombardi three times and outscored NIU 14-7 in points off turnovers. Muma’s pick-six gave the Cowboys a 42-16 lead with 6:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Lombardi finished 19-for-36 passing for 233 yards and one touchdown — a 40-yard strike to Trayvon Rudolph for a score 89 seconds after Muma’s 23-yard touchdown.
“You could see it on the sideline a little bit. Everyone’s energy was just kind of down,” Muma said of the mood after NIU stormed back to take a 43-42 lead with 4:56 remaining. “That’s kind of when a few guys stepped up and said, ‘Hey, we’re still in this. We need to just keep it going.’ If any time counts, it counts right now. This is when we need to make a stop and make the most of it.’
“I was glad to see our guys were able to do that.”
After Chambers put the Pokes back on top, the defense was able to stop the bleeding with a late stop.
Then it was time to celebrate before addressing the concerns Monday as on-field preparations begin for this Saturday’s game against reigning Mid-American Conference champion Ball State at War Memorial Stadium.
“The locker room was really excited,” Chambers said. “We know we have stuff to work on. We’re nowhere near where we want to be. Luckily, we have 10 more games to fine-tune that and get ready for something bigger.
“We’re going to celebrate this one, and it’s going to feel really good going back to Laramie with the W.”