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Spartans hang tough for win in Wyoming

Cordiero engineers big numbers, Spartan defense impressive again

SJS wide receiver Elijah Cooks (4) vs. Wyoming on a 52-yard catch and run. Cooks led all receivers with 8 receptions, 177 yards receiving.
photo by: Terrell Lloyd

“We have a different attitude coming here,” said Spartan QB Chevan Cordiero on the 33-16 SJS win. “People say it’s hard to play here at altitude and people always make it seem like it’s going to be hard to play here, but it just makes us more hungry and it just gives us motivation.”

That 7,220 foot Laramie altitude also offered perfect weather for football, though it took some time for the Cowboys (3-3, 1-2 MW) and the Spartans (3-1, 1-0 MW) to do their part.

In the end, Cordiero and the Spartan defense were in control for most of the game despite some expected Wyoming punches.

In a slow building game of neutralizing forces, a 5-3 first quarter score finally rolled to a 19-10 football score to end the first half. By the middle of the fourth quarter, the ebb and flow of the game took on its full dynamics.

In the first half, the Spartan defense was its bell weather self. Holding the Cowboy offense to 136 total yards and stymying a power run game left room for lead engineer Cordiero to carve out 253 total yards in the first half.

With his legs and especially with his arm, Cordiero kept the Cowboy defense off balance and there was really not too much Wyoming could do on a consistent basis to stop the SJS offense.

Spartan receiver Elijah Cooks showed his elite conference abilities with 100 receiving yards in the first half, while cohort Charles Ross showed his deftness with tough timely catches. TE Skylar Loving-Black next got open on a hard inside release from the Wyoming eight-yard line for Cordiero to locate him for his first TD reception. Cordiero then ended the half with his own one-yard TD plunge.

“I watch a lot of NFL receivers and they’re there for a reason,” said Cooks on who he models his game after. “Watching them run their routes like Cooper Kupp and Mike Evans makes me want to elevate my game a try new stuff and go out there and play to the best of my potential every day.”

Cooks ended the day with an almost certain Mountain West player of the week award with eight catches and 177 yards receiving.

“Coach Scott has been there since day one for me since I got to Nevada,” said Cooks on his other key life influences. “He wanted me here when he first came here and I didn’t want to at first, but look how God works.”

Cooks continued, “I’m here with him now and he’s been nothing but great to me and he’s turned me into the receiver I am today. When I got to college, I had no real experience at receiver and he turned me into a real receiver. I’m forever blessed and thankful for him.”

To win on the road, the Spartans needed to play cleaner....and they cleaned up well enough

As the second half started, the Cowboys held the desired first possession. Wyoming was quickly thwarted on their second play. Cornerback Kenyon Reed’s deflection led to DE Cade Hall’s first interception of his career.

On the next two offensive plays, Cordiero found Cooks again for 26 more yards leading to a one-yard TD run by Kairee Robinson. Robinson’s attack mode carried over from last week with 102 rushing yards over the Cowboy defense.

On national TV, a frustrated Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl held his hands high in his arm pits, as the swarming Spartan defense continued to pull Wyoming into the pits - flummoxing the run game and forcing more of an uncomfortable pass game.

Wyoming finished with an uncharacteristic 253 total yards.

Where the Spartans will clean up next

It was clear there were other aspects to address from the kicking game to some mental penalties and capitalizing more on red zone visits - all of which can get glossed over with a strong win.

It’s the old adage - the little things can cut you down in the end. As the season progresses, expect the veteran leadership to sharpen its edges, as we’ve seen in the last four games.

Also, in the middle of the third quarter, DL Noah Wright fell over listless after a hard tackle. All football stopped for 20 minutes. Both sides helped. Concerns were all around. Somehow football started again.

Luckily, Wright was cleared from his hospital visit to make the plane ride home.

The reset left an opening for Wyoming and they quickly found the end zone two plays later after a 61-yard run by Peasley.

Fourth quarter close out

With a sometimes stalling offense, the Spartan defense often felt close to a knockout punch, but none really materialized.

But as in a great boxing match, appropriately, the knock out was provided by Cordiero with six minutes left in the game. A 10-play, 80 yard sequence capped by a 18-yard Cordiero TD dash led to the highest offensive output of the year so far - 456 total yards of offense.

Cordiero’s final game line: 21-37, 314 yards passing, 1 TD pass, 2 rushing TDs.

“Part of that is your mentality and mindset in the fourth quarter, late in the game when they know you’re going to run the ball, and you know you’re going to run the ball - do you have the ability to run it,” said Brennan.

Brennan on the intangibles Cordiero brings to the team, “He has incredible poise. He’s not your rah-rah guy, He’s not yelling at guys. He’s super competitive and yet he makes unselfish team decisions. He’s very calm and his poise is what makes him really special.”

From there, the defense took the queue from Cordiero’s offense and battened down the Wyoming offense for the remainder of the quarter for the win. The War Memorial crowd quickly followed suit streaming out of the stadium.

Next week, the Spartans host rising UNLV. In a battle of frenemies between Brennan and Rebel head coach Marcus Arroyo, the Spartans do have a path to victory.