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Wyoming Cowboys establish running identity in Montana win, prepare for Air Force

The Wyoming offense lines up for the first time in the Craig Bohl era.
The Wyoming offense lines up for the first time in the Craig Bohl era.
Tony Capobianco

Despite their matchup with Montana being an early season FCS matchup disguised as a regional rivalry, we now all see in front of our very eyes what head coach Craig Bohl’s “Cowboy Tough” mantra is all about: unwavering toughness and determination.

The Wyoming rushing attack made senior quarterback and captain Colby Kirkegaard's job easier.
Tony Capobianco

“That all sounds good,” Bohl said during the post-game press conference, “but if you don’t come out with a win, it’s all hot air.”

It’s all typical, stereotypical football jargon and Bohl is your typical, stereotypical old head football coach. Considering every high school football movie is mostly the same, Bohl would be the perfect typecast for every one.

But that stuff works well in Wyoming, as it recently worked well in North Dakota State with three straight FCS National Championships. They won with hard-nosed play and by running the ball through the heart of the opposing defensive and into the promised land. Lucky for Bohl, he’s got two running backs capable of doing just that.

Meet junior Shaun Wick and senior D.J. May, the two work-horses for their buckaroo quarterback Colby Kirkegaard. They haven’t given themselves a nickname yet but let’s go with Bronc and Buck for now. One is more of a charger like a buck, while the other has the majestic galloping speed with toughness like a bronco.

Wick rushed for 134 yards and 6.1 yards per carry and May rushed for 96 yards and 7.1 yards per carry. Each back scored a touchdown. Other than a field goal, that was all the team’s scoring.

“They’ll be the first to give credit to the offensive line,” Bohl said.

“They have the hardest job,” May said. “Somehow they make a hole for us and it’s up to us to run through it.”

Despite being a senior, Kirkegaard is a game manager at the quarterback position. He is not asked to win the game for the Pokes, but to just hand the ball off to the bulls and make the short passes necessary to move the chains.

“He is our captain and the leader of the offense,” May said. “I have full confidence in him.”

It’s like watching the Mountain West version of the 2008-09 New York Jets, where their mantra was “ground and pound” and Mark Sanchez was only tasked with handing the ball off to Shaun Greene and Ladainian Tomlinson and not make any passing mistakes.

That’s what is manifesting in Wyoming: a group of powerful young men who spent much of halftime – down 6-3 to Montana – relaying their message throughout the locker room as if they’re reminding themselves who they are and what they’re all about.

“Being Cowboy Tough, there are no excuses,” defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said. “Keep grinding, we know our time’s coming”

“We got this, Kirkegaard said to teammates during halftime. “We can move the ball.”

“We were starting to wear them down,” May said.

And, boom! The Cowboys scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter and held the Grizzlies to only 6 in a 17-12 season opening victory.

If they can wear out Air Force on Saturday, they can beat Air Force. Air Force is the type of team that handles their limitations better than most teams. They’re quite similar to how the Douglas High School football team is built: speedy skilled position players with a small offensive line. The biggest offensive lineman for the Falcons is senior Jimmy Manuel at 6-3, 285 pounds. Somewhere in the Southeastern Conference, there is a tight end weighing 285 pounds with a lot more muscle and athleticism.

Military academies like Air Force run the triple option offense because their offensive linemen don’t have the necessary size for pass block. They could always recruit linemen of that size but the military academies don’t tolerate fatties.
Offensive linemen like Manuel are extremely athletic for their position and can run with the ball carrier and giving sophomore running back Jacobi Owens — who rushed for 233 yards in their 44-16 season opening rout over Nicholls State — a nearly unstoppable entourage.

It’s why they, along with Army and Navy, are among the top of the list in team rushing year in and year out.
They’re also disciplined in a way that makes them the envy of many football coaches. Bohl can match that with his

“Cowboy Tough” way of life. The names on the back of the jerseys were taken off for a reason. A Wyoming Cowboy is only as good as his assignment and the execution of that assignment.

“It’s all about fitting in your gap. ‘Do your job. Do your job,’” said Yarbrough, who had four tackles in the victory. “If everybody does their job and everybody is communicating, I’m glad that’s the result.”

Expect Saturday’s matchup against the Falcons to be a quick race and Wyoming to finish 2-0.