Written 11/7 for 11/9
CQ list: Josh Allen, Craig Bohl, Josh Harshman, Austin Conway, Cooper Rothe, Chase Appleby, Brett Rypien, Jeremy McNichols, Thomas Sperbeck, Bryan Harsin
Headline: Oct. 29, 2016: the day David slayed Goliath
Subhead: Wyoming had never beaten Boise State in 10 previous tries. That changed on Oct. 29, 2016.
Cowboys game day
Game: Wyoming (6-2, 3-1 Mountain West) at Boise State (7-1, 4-0)
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Radio: KFBC (97.5 FM, 1240 AM), Cheyenne; KOWB (1290 AM), Laramie
By Michael Katz
LARAMIE – Josiah Hall had no idea he would enter internet lore as a GIF or a meme. Looking back on it three years later, he doesn’t even know why he did what he did.
The day was Oct. 29, 2016. The University of Wyoming hosted undefeated and No. 13-ranked Boise State. The Pokes had never beaten the Broncos, long the powerhouse of non-Power 5 programs. In 2015, Boise State beat the Cowboys by 20 at Albertsons Stadium; UW had endured a 2-10 season that year. But, at 5-2, 2016 was a chance to make the college football world take notice.
With the score tied at 28 and 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien dropped back to his own 2-yard-line. UW defensive lineman Chase Appleby started the play in the middle of the line of scrimmage, but stunted toward Rypien’s left. With no blocker shifting to help, Appleby hit Rypien as he cocked back to throw. The ball fell backward out of Rypien’s hand and bounced out of the back of the end zone.
“We just met flush … I didn’t even take him to the ground,” Appleby said. “I couldn’t believe what happened.”
Hall, then a redshirt freshman, was on the field for the play. He found his way toward the back of the end zone, put his hands over his head in the classic safety symbol, and began dancing, swaying his hips back and forth before eventually jumping in the air.
Without meaning to, Hall became an internet sensation.
“I wish I could tell you what was going through my mind,” Hall said with a smile. “But I was just excited, because I knew the implications of the play and what that would mean for our team.”
That play gave UW a 30-28 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Pokes ended the game in victory formation, and history was made. UW was winless against Boise State no more.
Fans rushed the field. Quarterback Josh Allen, now the starting signal-caller for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, will never forget that day. As many football memories as he’s made, it will be hard to top the day David slayed Goliath.
“I can still feel it in my bones,” Allen said. “To take down Boise State for the first time … what a huge win it was for us.”
As the Pokes travel to Boise to take on the Broncos this weekend, UW head coach Craig Bohl, now in his sixth season, is making sure his team doesn’t live in the past. But even he will admit that was a special day to be in Laramie.
“I can tell you, there are breakthrough games. I had talked to our fans, saying, ‘Make sure that you’re at War Memorial Stadium, because it will be a game you’ll remember,” Bohl said. “I think that game, it broke through some glass ceilings.”
WyoSports spoke with current and former players who were on the 2016 team to relive some of the game’s biggest moments. For everyone associated with the game, it was a day they’ll never forget. And for some, like Appleby, it was a day that changed their lives.
“It’s hard to put into words what a certain game can mean to player. That game put a stamp on my career,” Appleby said. “I could have walked away that night and been completely fine.”
“I’d never seen that before”
There are a handful of quarterbacks with strong arms. And then there’s Josh Allen’s.
On Oct. 29, 2016, the world learned about his cannon.
Allen came into the 2016 season as a somewhat unknown commodity. The Firebaugh, California, native was an unheralded recruit who spent time at a junior college to get his chance at Division I football. UW gave him that chance, but he was injured early in his first season on campus and was forced to redshirt.
That was the story with much of the 2016 Cowboys: underrecruited and underappreciated. Appleby, for instance, was a two-star prospect out of Frisco, Texas. He was ranked the 2,548th prospect in the 2012 class, per 247Sports. UW’s 2012 class as a whole was the 10th-best class in the Mountain West.
During UW’s 2-10 season in 2015, Bohl’s second at the helm, the Cowboys gave up an average of 34 points per game, while averaging just 19. Not a lot was expected of the 2016 edition of the team, particularly against Boise State, which had not had a losing season since 1997. The Broncos had been on the verge of winning national championships in recent years. The Pokes? Not so much.
“We weren’t picked to do anything,” Appleby said.
Coming into the 2016 matchup between the Cowboys and Broncos, Allen was putting up solid numbers – 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, though five of those picks had come in a loss at Nebraska – and the NFL Draft community began whispering about his potential at the next level.
It became apparent rather quickly that UW would have to depend on Allen’s powerful right arm.
The Cowboys found themselves trailing by two touchdowns early, due, in part, to an Allen interception on a tipped pass at the BSU 30-yard line and a goal-line stand from the Broncos. Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols scored on touchdown runs late in the first quarter and early in the second to give the Broncos a double-digit lead.
UW was able to get back in the game on a pair of Allen touchdowns to senior tight end Jacob Hollister, the latter of which came on a wheel route with about 52 seconds to play in the half. Despite the bumpy start, UW trailed just 21-17 at halftime.
“I remember just feeling like, the entire game, that we were going to win it. … There were a lot of ebbs and flows in that game,” Hall said. “I just had complete confidence in our team … we’re going to walk out of this stadium with a W.”
After an uneventful third quarter, then-true freshman kicker Cooper Rothe hit a 39-yard field goal that cut the Cowboys’ deficit to a point. Boise State, however, pulled out all the stops and extended its lead on a trick play, a reverse pass from wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck to Rypien, who trotted into the end zone untouched.
“I do remember that play very vividly,” Appleby said. “He was wide stinkin’ open.”
With just under 7 minutes left to play and Wyoming trailing by eight, Allen made “The Throw.”
On third-and-13 near the Boise State 30-yard line, Allen took a snap from the shotgun and sensed pressure coming from his right. Allen momentarily stepped up in the pocket before backtracking and scrambling. Running to his right, Allen directed traffic and threw the ball 45 yards on a line to the back of the end zone, where receiver Tanner Gentry jumped up to make the touchdown grab.
“I thought I saw the defender’s helmet turned toward Tanner,” said Allen, who finished the game with 274 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception. “I made a good throw, and Tanner made a better catch.”
Bohl, however, puts more stock in it. Three years later, he still can’t believe that throw.
“I’ve coached a long time against some really good quarterbacks, and you can go through the list,” said Bohl, who also coached Eagles star Carson Wentz at North Dakota State. “And I’d never seen that before. I don’t think (Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin) had either.”
“An unreal experience”
After an ensuing two-point conversion pass from Allen to Jake Maulhardt, the game was tied at 28. That’s when the “other” memorable play happened.
To truly understand the gravity of the situation, one must know the state of Appleby’s health at the time. Appleby, who only weighed about 270 pounds soaking wet, had lost 15 pounds over the last two days due to food poisoning (he says it was from a sandwich). He had endured injuries the last few seasons, as well, and would endure another injury later in the 2016 season.
But none of that mattered on Oct. 29, 2016.
Appleby and fellow defensive lineman Kevin Prosser had non-verbal signals to signify different plays. It could be a wink or it could just be a hand gesture. But with UW’s defense expecting Boise State to move into a hurry-up offense with about two minutes to play, Appleby called an audible.
Prosser, lined up at end, crashed inside and occupied the guard. Appleby darted outside to where Prosser had started; Boise State’s left tackle never even touched him. Appleby hit Rypien – and the ball – with all his might. As Appleby said, it felt like he had hit a wall.
“I was pretty damn quick,” Appleby said with a laugh.
Appleby sprinted toward the back of the end zone, thinking he was potentially going to score his second touchdown of the season; the first came on an interception he returned for a touchdown against Colorado State. The ball had other plans, though, and bounced harmlessly through the back line.
Hall momentarily stood in front of the referees questioningly, with his hands above his head in the safety signal. Then he began his famous dance; UW led 30-28.
“The turning point was definitely the safety in the back of the end zone,” UW senior tight end Josh Harshman, then a sophomore, said. “I mean, everybody’s going to remember that.”
After tailback Brian Hill secured the game with a crucial first down, Allen line up in victory formation. He took a knee, raised the ball over his head, and waited for the clock to hit zero. Before that could happen, fans began rushing field to celebrate the Pokes’ first win over a ranked team in 14 years.
“I’m getting chills talking about it right now,” Allen said. “I remember screaming and yelling and jumping up and down. The whole state of Wyoming, I felt like, was celebrating it.”
Rothe, who made two field goals in the game, remembers the moment like it was yesterday.
“It’s just hard to describe,” Rothe said. “It’s an unreal experience.”
The storming of the field was not difficult for Bohl to reminisce about, however. It was not the first time a crowd had the stormed the field at a game he coached – it happened at North Dakota State when they won three national championships under him, he said – but it was certainly the most memorable, since he ended up on the ground.
Bohl said he tried to make his way to midfield to shake Harsin’s hand. However, because of the fans on the field, he was unable to do so. The chaos ensued in all directions.
“At the FCS championship, they stormed the field; I was smart and got the hell away,” Bohl said. “I don’t know if I got rolled up or fell down, but it was crazy.”
“A piece of me in Laramie”
The moment is forever immortalized in a framed drawing in the living room at Chase Appleby’s parents’ home.
A large, black-and-white, hand-drawn picture of Appleby’s historic sack hangs in their Texas home. Appleby also has a game ball from that historic evening.
Appleby, who lives in Dallas now and works as an alcohol distributor (it’s “recession proof,” he says), was profoundly changed by that game three years ago. He thinks about it all the time, he said, and admits that the clip occasionally ends up on his YouTube feed.
In a matter of moments, Appleby became a folk hero. He can’t walk around Laramie without being recognized.
“I kind of took a step back and thought about all the players who had come before me,” Appleby said. “That play gave me purpose for what I did there for five years. When I think back about that, it really put a stamp on why I was supposed to be where I was.”
Laramie is a special place for Cowboys. Allen, one of the bright young stars in the NFL, reminisced about some of this favorite places to eat in Laramie – Born in a Barn and The Crowbar, to name a few. But after naming some eateries, he mentioned what he loved and missed most of all: the people.
“I spent the better part of three-and-a-half years there. Part of the community, friendships, relationships go way beyond football … anywhere you go, they are backing the Cowboys,” Allen said. it means a lot to me. It’s a special place … I have to find a way to get back there. I do miss it.”
It was days like Oct. 29, 2016, that made a small college town of 30,000 feel like the most important place on Earth.
The 2016 Pokes raised expectations for a program that has since thrived. Bowl eligibility in four straight years is no trivial accomplishment. The win against Boise State that year might have surprised the outside world, but for everyone inside the UW locker room, the outcome was expected.
“We really didn’t care about what anyone else was saying,” Allen said. “We were playing for each other.”
It was a testament to a team that bought into what the coaching staff preached.
“We just kept fighting,” said senior receiver Austin Conway, who was a freshman in 2016. “There’s not a football game you’re supposed to lose. You just go out there and do what you’re supposed to do. You win or you lose because of execution.”
Allen has a game at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and because of the time difference, the 2019 edition of Boise State and UW won’t start until 10 p.m. there. But he says he’s going to watch as much of it as he can before he goes to sleep.
Appleby, on the other hand, is having a family cookout. The afternoon will start with the Texas A&M vs. South Carolina game (Appleby’s father played for the Aggies) and will end with the Broncos and Cowboys. Ribs are the expected meal of choice.
No matter how many miles away from campus they get, Allen and Appleby will always have a piece of UW with them. There were too many memories on and off the gridiron to let a place like that go.
“You can’t go back in time, but when I think about Laramie, I think about home. There’s definitely a piece of me in Laramie,” Appleby said. “I’m so thankful for that city.”
Michael Katz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelLKatz.