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Arizona Bowl Comes Down to the Wire

In a game full of defensive stands, lots of special teams, and subpar commentary, the Arizona Bowl ended with the Wyoming Cowboys taking down the Toledo Rockets at the gun, 16-15. Wyoming was able to send off its retiring coach in style. Meanwhile, the Rockets failed to become just the third Toledo team to reach 12 wins in a single season.

Wyoming Wins the Arizona Bowl With a Walk-Off Kick

Toledo kicked off the game with a three-and-out on offense, setting the tone for what would be a low-scoring affair. Wyoming took advantage and drove down to get three themselves. Then, for the first time all year, Wyoming forced a turnover and walked away with just a field goal. Unfortunately for the Rockets, the “rule of cool” was not applied as an impressive touchdown by center Devan Rogers off of a ricochet was waved off and penalized. Toledo followed that up with a field goal of its own and then forced a massive punt on the subsequent possession.

Then, Jacquez Stuart was shot out of a cannon for an 80-yard touchdown run that was the difference for the majority of the game. The teams then traded a pair of punts each, two before and two after halftime. Then, as Toledo launched a perfect punt to pin the Cowboys within the five, Esean Carter sacked the Wyoming quarterback, forcing a fumble that resulted in a safety. After a field goal drive off of the ensuing free kick, the Rockets possessed a 15-6 lead and held it well into the fourth.

After a pair of punts, Wyoming kicked it into gear. Andrew Peasley led his team down the field before getting hurt in the red zone. Then, backup quarterback Evan Svoboda punched it in two plays later. The Cowboys forced a punt and had to start its final drive from its own six.

On the first play from scrimmage, Peasley returned, threw a dart for a 26-yard gain, and crumpled. He was dealing with what looked like a rib injury that was suffered on the drive prior. No matter, Svoboda led his team with another 11 plays and 61 yards to get the team into field goal range. As time expired, John Hoyland nailed the 24-yard field goal to win it.

A Special MVP

It’s not often that a non-quarterback wins the MVP of a game but that’s exactly what happened in this year’s Arizona Bowl. Had Toledo won, Stuart would have been the MVP. However, despite Peasley’s efficient day of 168 yards off of 20-for-28 passing, Hoyland, the Cowboys’ kicker, ended up taking home the hardware.

The win marked Wyoming’s second Arizona Bowl victory in its third try. Hoyland’s honor as MVP was the first time a kicker has received MVP honors in the game in its short history (since 2015). In fact, in the seven prior games, four quarterbacks have taken home the award and three running backs. From 2015 through 2020, there was a defensive MVP award and those were three safeties, a defensive back, a linebacker, and a defensive end.

Hoyland was the majority of the Cowboys’ scoring on the night. He converted on all three field goal attempts from 34, 52, and 24. He also made the lone extra-point attempt.

Overcoming Losses

In addition to losing Dequan Finn, Vinny Sciury, and Peny Boone to the Transfer Portal, the defense was without Quinyon Mitchell, Maxen Hook, Terrance Taylor, and Judge Culpepper (for the most part) in this one.

In Finn’s absence, Tucker Gleason played well enough, but he wasn’t Finn. Gleason managed 186 yards but only completed 14 of 34 passing and turned the ball over. In Boone’s absence, Stuart stepped up. Heading into the game, Stuart was already a known commodity, so this was less surprising.

Defensively, Toledo was able to hold Wyoming to 354 total yards of offense, about average for the Cowboys. Allowing just 4.1 yards per carry was impressive, of course. Wyoming amassed 170 yards off of a whopping 41 carries on the day.

The Legend of Svoboda

One of the greatest things about bowl season is the emergence of unknowns. Whether it’s from opt-outs, transfers, or in-game injuries, new names get known. Wyoming’s backup, Svoboda, was just that.

Heading into the Arizona Bowl, Svoboda accounted for 184 yards through the air with an interception. He even added 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground. In this one, he had to make his 10th appearance of the year and he just led his team to the win.

Svoboda’s first action in the game was on first and goal from the seven after Peasley’s first injury. All he did was carry it twice and punch it in.

Then, as Peasley hit the deck a second time, Svoboda stepped up. He accounted for three rushes for 19 yards and a 16-yard pass that was aided by a late hit penalty. The moment was not too big for the JUCO transfer. With Peasley’s eligibility drying up after this game, Svoboda showed he will be able to lead the program in 2024.

Wyoming closes out the year 9-4, the 11th time in program history with nine wins. Toledo, meanwhile, falls to 11-3, winning 11 games for the sixth time.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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