With the lights turned on and the snow falling, Tyler Vander Waal perfectly exemplified the meaning of Cowboy tough. Vander Waal received an onslaught of early-season criticism in 2018 — some of it warranted, some of it not — but with a bowl bid hanging in the balance and a decorated senior class rightfully deserving one final home victory, the redshirt freshman quarterback came off the bench and played his best game as a Cowboy.
Coming into the season, Vander Waal had been talked about ad nauseam.
Not only was he the new guy on the block who’d been given the keys to the football program, but he was the quarterback tasked with replacing Josh Allen — arguably the best quarterback to ever play for UW.
The first eight games didn’t go well. Wyoming laid claim to one of the worst offenses in the nation and Vander Waal shouldered much of that blame — some of it warranted, some of it not.
During the eighth game of the season, with the Pokes owning a 2-5 record, head coach Craig Bohl chose to give Sean Chambers some game action. The true freshman had the Pokes within a score of, now nationally ranked, Utah State with under three minutes to play in the game.
Chambers’ first start occurred the next week in Fort Collins in the Border War against Colorado State, and he logged a win. The freshman maintained a perfect record with a home victory over San Jose State.
Chambers gave the Pokes life. He injected a near-dead offense with plenty of life, while Vander Waal was cast aside. Vander Waal, when asked if he’d seek a transfer after being benched for a fellow freshman, said something so profound and so rare nowadays that it made me proud to say he’s apart of my alma mater.
To sum it up, Vander Waal said he made a commitment to UW for four or five years, and that he was a Cowboy for life. That’s not something you’ll commonly hear in this day and age where most players want immediate gratification, playing time and shun the near mention of having to fight through adversity.
Now, Vander Waal could have simply said all of that just to appease the media and not make himself bigger than the program, but his play Saturday validated that he’s all in for the Pokes.
Vander Waal — after an injury to Chambers — stepped into a game against an Air Force team battling for its bowl dreams and spearheaded one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory. With under five minutes to play, the Falcons, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, had a better than 97 percent chance to win the game, leading 27-14. Vander Waal and company scored 21 points in the final 4:32 to win 35-27 and keep their two hopes alive. Vander Waal converted multiple fourth downs, while running and throwing for two touchdowns. The man who was benched, but still pledged his loyalty to the program, stepped in amid adverse conditions and plenty of criticism and kept Wyoming’s postseason aspirations alive.
Chambers’ ankle is broken, and his season is over, meaning Vander Waal is the guy for the regular-season finale at New Mexico and a bowl game should the Pokes qualify for one.
The man who was berated with hate and criticized at every opportunity silenced those critics this past weekend. He’s a Cowboy for life, and I couldn’t be more proud of that fact.
The University of Wyoming men’s cross-country team finished 12th at the NCAA national meet in Madison, Wisconsin.
UW’s volleyball team hit the 20-win mark for the first time since the 2015 season, completing the regular season at 20-10.
UW’s wrestling team dropped its first dual of the season, falling to No. 7 Nebraska 22-12. Cole Verner was named Mountain West Conference Wrestler of the Week after his upset win over two-time All-American Zeke Moisey.