Ohio (10-4) and Wyoming (7-6) needed more than four quarters to determine a winner at the Barstool Arizona Bowl in Tucson, AZ. For the second time this bowl season, an overtime period was required to crown the champion.
Tim Albin and the Bobcats utilized this overtime period to their advantage as quarterback CJ Harris delivered a walk-off strike to tight end Tyler Foster in the end zone to seal a 30-27 victory in the desert. To attain 10 wins for the third time in program history, Ohio relied on the strength of impressive defense, timely offense, and clutch kicking to triumph over the Cowboys.
The game started and ended with a bang for both squads.
Due to the absence of MAC Offensive Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke and a shaky Wyoming offense to end the regular season, a lot of folks figured the Arizona Bowl was on course for a low-scoring game. But in stunning contrast, the first 17 minutes was a relative track meet with 25 collective points scored, and miscues by both squads fueled this early points barrage.
Wyoming took the opening kick and marched down the field on an impressive nine-play, 75-yard drive for score. The Cowboys leaned on the pass game on their first drive with quarterback Andrew Peasley looking sharp, hitting five of his first six passes. Effective passing early opened up an easy run to cap off the drive — a 9-yard burst up the middle by freshman running back Jordon Vaughn.
Ohio answered quickly with a score of its own with the help of a critical error by Wyoming. The drive got off to a great start when First Team All-MAC special teams returner Keegan Wilburn returned the kickoff to the Bobcat 42-yard line. On 3rd and 8, cornerback Kolbey Taylor bailed Ohio out with a targeting call on an uncatchable throw. That fortunate break for Ohio handed the Bobcats a first down in Wyoming territory, and they capitalized the very next play on a 34-yard launch from quarterback Harris to Jacoby Jones.
Ohio pulled some trickery on the extra point, faking the kick for a two-point conversion on a pass from punter/holder Jonah Wieland to snapper Justin Holloway. The conversion, which caught Wyoming off-guard, proved critical in the end because Ohio needed a late field goal to send the game to overtime.
It wasn’t long though before Ohio matched Wyoming with a big error of its own to result in an easy Cowboy score. Ohio muffed a punt at its own 17 which was recovered by Wyoming’s Cole DeMarzo. The Cowboys converted their good fortune into six on the very next play, a Peasley delivery to tight end Treyton Welch down the right sideline to extend the lead to 14-8.
As the second quarter preogressed, the game settled in to more of a defensive clinic with a heavy dose of run by both sides and little scoring. Both sides continued to mix in some pass attempts but with limited success.
Each team moved the ball between the 30s on the ground but neither could gain significant traction with only two field goals made — a 43-yarder by Ohio’s Nathaniel Vakos and a 52-yard bomb by Wyoming’s John Hoyland. Hoyland’s kick provided Wyoming a 17-11 advantage heading into the break.
But coming out of the locker room, Ohio took control of the game for most of the second half with splash plays on defense and strong running at times.
Ohio’s defensive tackle Rodney Mathews made a great play to snuff out a Cowboy drive when he registered a tackle for loss of four yards on 3rd and 1 where he blew through the line and sallowed the running back. Ohio defensive end Shane Bonner killed drives with two sacks and cornerback Torrie Cox Jr. snuffed out another with an interception.
As the third quarter wound down, Ohio’s defense provided great field position upon which the offense capitalized to take an 18-17 lead. As the ‘Cats had done so many times late in the season, they turned to running back Sieh Bangura and the offensive line to get things done. Bangura covered all 56 yards on the four-play drive, including a 40-yarder where a hole opened with a key kickout block by tight end Will Kacmarek.
The Wyoming passing game, which lay dormant for the middle two quarters, woke up in a hurry with just over four minutes to go in the game. Once the passing game regained rhythm, Vaughn finished the drive on a 5-yard scamper to retake a 24-21 advantage with under three minutes remaining. On that go-ahead series, Peasley looked sharp like he did in the first quarter, passing for 60 total yards to set up Vaughn’s touchdown run.
With two minutes left, it was time for the Ohio offense to respond, and the Bobcats moved 55 yards in the final two minutes. To send the game to overtime, the weight of the season rested on the shoulders of Vakos. The kicker missed his warm-up attempt, which was waived off thanks to an attempted icing timeout by the Wyoming coaching staff. But when it mattered, Vakos nailed the 46-yarder on the second try for the Bobcats to survive regulation and force overtime.
The Bobcats defense rose to the occasion in overtime to limit the Cowboys to a 29-yard field goal by Hoyland. The Wyoming kicker, a First Team All-Mountain West player, was as great as advertised on the day, accounting for nine of his team’s 27 points.
With an opportunity for the win, Ohio made the play of the game when faced with a 3rd and 8 on the Cowboys’ ten yard line. Instead of playing conservative, Ohio dialed up a pass to tight end Tyler Foster, and CJ Harris placed the ball perfectly in Foster’s hands in the corner of the endzone and over the outstretched arms of a Wyoming defender to seal the deal. When the tight end elevated from the ground, the scoreboard etched a 30-27 result in stone and the Bobcats were officially bowl champions for the fourth time since 2017.
Harris took home the MVP hardware combining for 236 yards and two touchdown passes on the night, while pitching in 52 yards as a runner. The sophomore quarterback — making only his third start of the season — was especially clutch down the stretch, leading the Bobcats to ten points on their final two drives.
Ohio running back Sieh Bangura was also in the hunt for the hardware with 156 yards from scrimmage (138 rushing) and a score. The redshirt freshman had an impressive first campaign finishing the year with 1,078 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns for the 10-win Bobcats.
All-conference linebacker Easton Gibbs and defensive end Braden Siders were impressive for Wyoming. Gibbs finished with 10 stops, a forced fumble, and a sack while Siders had two sacks and three tackles for loss despite a losing effort.
For Ohio, an exciting turnaround season ends with an impressive win total, with the victory over Wyoming earning Ohio double digit wins for the first time since 2011 and for the third time in program history. Albin and the 2022 Bobcats became the first MAC squad to reach the 10-win threshold since 2018 Buffalo, and by winning the Arizona Bowl, they finalized the conference’s final bowl record at 4-2.