Tuck’s Takes: An emotional Jayden Clemons enters Border War lore
FORT COLLINS, Colo., -- The raw emotions were real. The tears that welled and eventually flowed told a tale.
Jayden Clemons wasn't supposed to be here. That's what he was told, anyway.
The recruiters never called. The offers were nonexistent. When he finally got his chance to show what he could do under center, his coaches shuffled him to the safety spot. He knew all along he wanted to be a quarterback.
He envisioned slinging touchdown passes, evading defenders and winning the big one.
Clemons did all of that and more Saturday night inside Canvas Stadium, leading Wyoming to a 14-13 victory over its most-hated rival.
Clemons' youthful, brace-faced smile turned to a more serious tone when he was asked what this win truly meant to him.
"The guys on this team, they had my back when no one else did," Clemons said softly, voice cracking. "You know, we put in a lot of work. A lot of time off the field, on the field, offseason and in-season. An opportunity to come in, and again, like I said at the beginning, have those guys trust me. It meant a lot. That's why I'm so emotional."
Clemons, who entered the game in the second quarter for an injured Andrew Peasley, completed 7-of-11 passes for 90 yards. After a sluggish start offensively, the Utah product tucked the ball under his right arm, blew around the edge and finally got the visitors on the board from 14 yards out with just 34 seconds remaining in the first half.
Cool and calm, Clemons orchestrated that 12-play, 69-yard drive, chewing up 6:33 of game clock. It was clutch. It was crucial.
With the Cowboys trailing 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, a muffed punt had Clemons and Co. set up at Colorado State's 33-yard line. On the second snap, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound sophomore fired a picture-perfect strike down the left sideline where it landed in the hands of a leaping Alex Brown.
It was Clemons' first collegiate touchdown pass. It couldn't have come at a better time.
"That was very special," he said. "Me and Alex have a pretty tight relationship off the field. It's definitely, brotherly. I've been telling him this whole season, you know, stay in it. Every receiver, every playmaker wants to get the ball and score. That's common with everyone ... I told him his time was coming, told him I love him, told him I trust him, been telling him that the whole season."
Clemons transferred from the University of Utah after the 2020 season. Despite throwing for 2,430 passing yards and 26 touchdowns during his senior year at Skyridge High School in Lehi, the coaches in Salt Lake City didn't see a future for him at the quarterback position.
He walked on in Laramie but was immediately buried on the depth chart behind guys like Sean Chambers, Levi Williams and Hank Gibbs. Last fall, Clemons played the role of scout-team QB. Basically, he prepared his teammates for that Saturday's game. When the Cowboys were on the road, he watched on television like you did.
Still, he just wouldn't give up.
"This whole calendar year really I did a lot of personal growth and development, changing my mindset, my mentality and how I go about my business, my work and kind of making necessary changes in my life," Clemons said. "That will hopefully set me up for greater success on the field. I just kind of kept my head down and kept working. And, yeah, like you mentioned, I definitely started at the bottom and I knew where I was. I knew what my goals were and I knew that the only way to obtain them and achieve them was to go through it."
Craig Bohl, who now sports a 6-3 all-time record in the Border War, praised his young signal caller Saturday night.
"He came here initially without a scholarship," Wyoming's ninth-year head coach said. "He was on the bottom of the depth chart and we kept on watching him. (Offensive coordinator Tim) Polasek goes, 'I don't know. I'm just watching how he handles everything. I think he deserves a chance.'
"... Andrew, we felt like he performed the best, but Jayden moved up the food chain. Tonight was a big, big moment for him. I mean, he played on a big stage and he answered the bell. I don't think he did very many things wrong. He got good run checks, he ran the ball, He threw the ball. I'm really happy for him."
Clemons' efforts weren't lost on the Cowboys' defense, either.
UW linebacker Easton Gibbs grew up with Clemons in southern California. The two attended elementary school together in the San Diego area. Gibbs watched from the back of the media room as his friend teared up behind the podium. He said that's one sign of a great leader.
"He did a great job tonight, stepping up," Gibbs said. "We all had faith in him, too ... Being emotional like that, I think we can all kind of take from that. You know, we all love each other so much on this team. So it's been a good, good ride so far."
In many ways, Clemons embodies this team.
Did you expect the Cowboys to be 7-3 overall and 5-1 in Mountain West play after 10 games? Did you expect this team, the third-youngest in the country, to be playing meaningful football in November? Did you even know the name of half of the guys littering this roster?
Clemons was an afterthought. No one believed.
Now, he owns his own slice of Border War history. Without him, the Bronze Boot is in the home locker room and the chants turn to "I'm proud to be a CSU Ram."
That didn't happen.
"There's no better feeling than that, especially when those guys in the huddle, guys on the sideline are looking me in the eyes and they have my back," he said. "They're pushing me just as much as I'm pushing them. So, that's sports. There's no other feeling like that. There's no other situation in life where you get that feeling.
"So, words really can't describe it."
FINAL: Wyoming 14, CSU 13
* The Cowboys have now won four straight and have set up one of the biggest regular season games in the Bohl era. Boise State, who will likely move to 6-0 in the Mountain Division in Reno Saturday night, pays a visit to War Memorial Stadium next Saturday with a shot at first place on the line with one week to go in the regular season. What more can you ask for? "I'm excited to win the boot," he said with a smile. "I'm going to go and kiss my wife back here and enjoy tonight and I'll start watching the tape in a little bit."
* This was a body-bag game. Jordan Bertagnole and Cam Stone went down late and never returned. Same with Peasley. Gibbs spent some time on the sideline, as did Deron Harrell. Bohl didn't have medical updates on any of the above postgame, but did say he will look at the tape when it comes to the shots that prematurely sent his starting QB to the locker room before the half. "I watched a lot of tape and we knew it was going to be tough sledding," Bohl said. "Their backers are downhill backers and their front is impressive. They've got good corners, so they were able to come up with some good matchups."
* Wyoming hasn't scored a single point in the first quarter of any of the last four games. The Pokes have been outscored 35-0 in that timeframe and three of those games were on the road. That is no recipe for success, yet this squad just keeps on racking up wins. "It just shows you the type of team we are," Gibbs said. "It doesn't matter what the score is or where we're at in the game, you know, we always feel like we're in the game." Still, it's not ideal to battle back every Saturday. Gibbs knows it, too. "It's definitely something we need to focus on as a defense and, I think, on offense, too, is getting off to a little bit of a faster start and make it a little bit easier on us," he continued. "But I think we're just grateful for the fight this team has."
* There was a potential game-changing moment just before the half. With seven seconds remaining, CSU quarterback Clay Millen fired a strike down the right seam into the arms of Tory Horton. The Rams had one timeout left and were clearly in field-goal range after moving 62 yards on just three plays. However, the CSU wideout slipped a tackle and, instead of going down and blowing a timeout, took his chances on getting into the end zone. He nearly did, too. Luckily for the Cowboys, their fastest player was in pursuit, knocking Horton out of bounds at the 3-yard line with no time left. "Yeah, I don't know if I puckered up but I was watching," Bohl joked. If Horton would've scored, that would've given the home team a 17-7 lead at the break.
* Brown has been in Laramie for four seasons. Entering this game, he had just four catches to his credit. That obviously changed in the fourth when he hauled in his first-career touchdown. You have to wonder what a play like that could do for his confidence going forward? "I think it definitely boosts your confidence," the 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore said. "I think anybody would say scoring a touchdown in a college football game would help their confidence, but really, I just have to stay humble and keep fighting because the year is not over. We still have a lot of football left to play and a lot more to prove."
* Harrell may have come up with the biggest defensive play in this one. With the Rams' already out to a 10-0 advantage, and on the move again, Millen tossed an errant slant pass into the end zone. The Wisconsin transfer was the only player in the vicinity, hauling in his first interception in a UW uniform. "When you go on the road and you start looking at how we're made as a football team, if you start getting behind so many possessions, then that changes what's on coach Polasek's Rolodex," Bohl said. "So, I thought it was a big, big play."
* UW is now 3-for-3 when it comes to claiming traveling trophies this fall. The Pokes snagged Jim Bridger's rifle after a win over Utah State, the Paniolo Trophy after the victory on the islands and now the Bronze Boot. Make no mistake, one is way more important than the others. "Now, all those trophies are great, but I want to be clear -- this is the granddaddy of them all," Bohl said with a grin.
* Colorado State's lead in the all-time series is now down to single digits. With this latest loss, its sixth in seven years, the Rams advantage now sits at 59-50-5. Since the Bronze Boot was introduced in 1968, the Cowboys have claimed it 30 times. CSU, 25.
* Trailing by one with 50 seconds remaining, Horton retrieved the kickoff at his own goal line and began to move upfield. The Nevada transfer is arguably the most explosive player in this league -- Jakorey Hawkins, who covered SEC wideouts, vaulted him onto his own personal Top-10 list after this one -- was brought down at the 18. Horton returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring Saturday night, so that was a small victory for UW. Despite having zero timeouts at their disposal, it was still a tense final minute. "I was actually glad that he burned up some time," Bohl said. CSU went 49 yards on just five plays but was unable to set up a game-winning field goal.
* As good as Horton is -- and he's really good -- his blunder in the fourth quarter while attempting to haul in a punt cost the Rams big time. Two plays later, Clemons found Brown for six. CSU never scored again.
* John Hoyland missed a field goal in this one. That's not often a sentence that is typed. He pushed a 37-yard attempt wide right in the third quarter that would've tied this one up at 10-10. Thankfully for the visitors, Michael Boyle also shanked one from 40 that would've given the Rams a 16-14 advantage.
* The Cowboys tallied five sacks Saturday night to retake the Mountain West lead in that category with 31. On the flip side, the Rams have now given up 48 QB takedowns in 10 games. That's the most in the nation. Ouch.
* Wyoming and Boise State will square off next Saturday in Laramie. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Gibbs, though, would prefer if you just come in person. "We have to pack 'The War,' as everybody says," he said. "We have to get that place rocking. I think it'd be a big advantage for us being back at home."
* Tonight's announced attendance inside Canvas Stadium was 30,300. Plenty of those fans were dressed in brown and gold. Audible chants were heard throughout the game from the visiting section. This sure didn't seem like a road game.
PRESS PASS: Roaming The War
-PRESS PASS: Roaming The War