Laramie, Wyo. • Its high-scoring offense largely kept at bay, Utah State turned to defense and special teams to earn its sixth straight victory, 24-16 over Wyoming on Saturday.
Jontrell Rocquemore’s 20-yard interception return on the first play of the second half set up a 3-yard TD run by Darwin Thompson, and Savon Scarver’s 99-yard kick return late in the third — his third career scoring return — put Utah State (6-1, 3-0 Mountain West) up 24-6.
In his first appearance, Wyoming freshman quarterback Sean Chambers, No. 3 on the depth chart, came off the bench to spark a long-dormant offense with 100 yards rushing and 62 passing. He led the Cowboys (2-6, 0-4) to three scores in four drives to cut the lead to 24-16 with 5:32 remaining.
Wyoming got the ball back at its own 25 with 2:12 to play but Tyler Vander Waal came back in and misfired on four straight passes, and Utah State ran out the clock to hand the Cowboys their fourth straight loss.
“We’re trying to get on a championship run, to put ourselves in position in November,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
“We won with defense and a huge play on special teams,” he said. “We will always win as a team. ... whether we have a game like this where it’s defensive-dominated or one game where we have to score 60 to win 60-59, it won’t matter. You’re going to have different games like that.”
Rocquemore said the Aggies prepared for the bootleg, which the Cowboys ran to start the third quarter. The linebacker anticipated the play, picked off Vander Waal’s pass and returned it to the Wyoming 3-yard line.
“I just seen him roll out,” Rocquemore said. “He pulls it, and I’m like, this is perfect. Hopefully he throws enough so I can just jump and grab it, but it kinda like went right into my hands. ... I’m proud of the defense. We stepped up to the plate.”
Thompson’s 56-yard scamper on the third play of the game was the only touchdown of the first half, which ended with the Aggies up 10-3. He finished with 109 yards on 17 carries.
“That first run I broke, I was tired,” Thompson said. “I was like, man, my hamstring is cookin’ right now.”
Jordan Love, who was completing 67.2 percent of his passes coming in, was 12 of 28 for 53 yards and an interception.
NIco Evans led all carriers with 133 yards on 25 attempts, including a 53-yard TD run for the Cowboys. He credited Chambers with a lot of poise.
“He came in and took control of the huddle,” Evans said. “He’s a really good leader and you don’t really see that from a young quarterback, but he was able to give the offense and the whole team a lot of energy.”
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl credited Chambers with bouncing back after a lost fumble on his second play.
“He shook that off, went in and competed, wasn’t nervous,” Bohl said. “He went in and operated the offense well with the things we asked him to do.”
Utah State: The Aggies rolled into Laramie with the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation (51.7) and were averaging 478.7 yards per game, but Love misfired repeatedly and Utah State finished with only 194 yards and punted a season high nine times. Still, the defense held when necessary to keep the Aggies atop the Mountain Division.
“That’s not an ugly game; that’s a beautiful game,” Wells said. He admitted he didn’t realize Utah State became bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons until someone called his attention to it.
“That’s huge when you look at 120 years of football at Utah State,” he said. “These guys are in the best era of Utah State football and I’m proud to be a small part of it, but for this team, this isn’t the final step. I promise you that.”
Wyoming: The offense (128th in scoring, 127th in yardage) continued to struggle until coach Craig Bohl gave play-calling duties to Chambers. The freshman fumbled on his first series in the first quarter and returned to bench. But after Vander Waal threw an interception on the first play of the second half, Chambers led the offense until the final series. He guided the Wyoming offense to 257 of its 331 yards.
Evans (133 yards) and Chambers (100) became the first pair of Cowboys to each gain 100 yards rushing since Brett Smith (138) and Shaun Wick (116) accomplished the feat against New Mexico on Oct. 12, 2013.
Utah State will host New Mexico next Saturday. The Aggies won last year in Albuquerque 24-10.
Wyoming visits Colorado State on Friday, the 110th meeting in the series. The Cowboys have won the last two.