Vander Waal Gets the Green Light; Drives Cowboys to Late-Game Victory
LARAMIE – In the fourth quarter of the fourth game of the football season, the Cowboys gave redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Vander Waal the keys to the car. And despite a major bump in the road along the way, Vander Waal delivered the Cowboys a time-running-out, 17-14 victory over Wofford College.
Coach Craig Bohl had been careful in the handling of Vander Waal, who filled the void created by the departure of Josh Allen, who was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the seventh pick in the first round of the NFL draft, and was given his first regular-season start in the Bills’ home opener on Sunday.
But caution gave way to necessity in the fourth quarter against Wofford, and Vander Waal answered the challenge impressively.
Oh, there was a glitch.
On the ninth play of a potential go-ahead touchdown drive, with just 3:25 remaining on the clock, Vander Waal, who had mixed five pass completions with two running plays after an incomplete pass attempt on the first play of the drive, was blindsided as he went back to pass. The ball popped out of his hands, and into the hands of Wofford’s Weston Rountree for an interception.
The defense, however, came to the rescue. Five plays later, Wofford, holding a 14-10 lead, was forced to punt. The Cowboys took over on their own 20 with 1:59 to play.
And in an impressive display of clock usage by Vander Waal, on the 14th play of what was a 1 minute, 42 second, 80-yard drive, Vander Wall connected with Raghib Ismael, Jr., on a nine-yard, game-winning touchdown.
“I think for myself, and as an offense, we took a huge step forward (Saturday),” said Vander Waal. “We work on the two-minute drill every Monday at Practice, and we never really think we’d ever run it until (Saturday), and it really showed up.
“I think, I myself, made a big maturity step forward, and I think the whole offense kind of found that groove. We know we have the confidence to do it.”
Understand, Vander Waal’s only collegiate experience coming into this season was wearing the headphones on the sidelines during his redshirt year, conveying messages from the coaches in the press box to the coaches on the sidelines.
What made that game-winning drive so significant was that after the disappointment of seeing the previous drive end with the interception, Vander Waal didn’t hesitate when given a chance for late-game redemption.
“It was definitely frustrating, but it was out of my control,” said Vander Waal. “I just told the guys we’re going to have two minutes to get the ball back and score, and we have to do it. I told the guys on the sidelines we worked too hard in the summer. We ran too many springs to let this game slip away. We executed on the final drive and it all came together.”
After starting the game-winning drive with a 17-yard pass to Ismail, he threw two incompletions, but hit Austin Conway with a 12-yard pass for a first down. Then came a 16-yard pass to James Price that took the ball to the Wyoming 49.
An ineligible receiver down field cost the Cowboys a five-yard penalty. Then, after an incompletion, he hit Tyree Mayfield with a 15-yard pass for a first-down on the Wofford 25. Two incompletions and a six-yard rushing play left the Cowboys with a fourth-and-four from the 19. Vander Wall and redshirt freshman running back Xazavian Valladay combined on a 10-yard pass for a first down, and two players later, Ismail, who was the third alternative on the play, hauled in that nine-yard, game-deciding toss.
“That was the most butterflies I have had in a long time, just watching the pass rush, and seeing if Tyler gets (a pass) off, and seeing the receiver. …,” said safety Andrew Wingard. “It was really fun, and kind of emotionally draining. But it was awesome to see them finish it.”
Finish what the Cowboys feel is the start of the emergence of Vander Waal.
“When you are the quarterback and you take a field (80 yards) down the field, there’s a real confidence builder in that,” said Bohl. “For a freshman quarterback, sometimes it’s like there are 13 guys out there ()on defense). … There were some errors, but I thought he played awfully well for a red-shirt freshman. It’s going to give him some confidence, and also (give confidence to) our football team.”
What Vander Waal knows is it also gives confidence to the coaching staff that even though he is a freshman, they have a quarterback who wasn’t fazed at all by that two-minute challenge.
Consider that he had completed 34 of 69 pass attempts for 364 yards and no touchdowns in the first three games combined. That averages out to 11.3 completions, 23 attempts and 121.3 yards. In the fourth quarter on Saturday, alone, he was 13-for-22 for 148 yards.
“I think it shows, as the season goes on, there’s more and more trust being put on my shoulders, and more things I am able to do” said Vander Waal. “I think I showed the coaches what I’m capable of doing (Saturday). I think that really helps, just the confidence level we have as a whole offense.”
It gives the Cowboys a pleasant memory as they head into an off-week, and prepare for that Sept. 29 matchup with Boise State at War Memorial Stadium.