(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) Wyoming QB Brett Smith

What a difference one player makes for the Wyoming Cowboys. After missing the last game, Sophomore Quarterback Brett Smith was back in the line-up Saturday at Idaho. He threw a career-high five touchdown passes, including the game-winning 25-yard strike to Jalen Claiborne, as the Pokes won their first game of the 2012 season, 40-to-37, in overtime over the Vandals in Moscow, Idaho.

Idaho (0-4) forced overtime with a touchdown on the final play of regulation and a made P-A-T. Wyoming (1-3) won the coin toss and chose to go on defense first. A key sack on third down by junior Mark Willis forced the Vandals to settle for a 49-yard field goal and a 37-34 lead. Then the Cowboys went for the win on their first play of OT. That’s when Smith found Claiborne in the corner of the end zone for the game-winner.

Smith was terrific and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He was 23-of-35 for a career-high 365 yards and the five t-d passes to five different receivers. Smith added 22 yards on the ground. Senior Chris McNeill also had a big day with eight catches for a career-high 219 yards and one touchdown reception. His t-d catch was good for 73 yards. McNeill also had an 80-yard catch that was instrumental in UW tying the score at 27-27 early in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys jumped out to a 14-6 lead in the first quarter. Freshman QB Jason Thompson scored on an 11-yard touchdown run on his first career play in a Wyoming uniform and a 7-0 lead. The Vandals made a pair of field goals, before Smith connected with McNeill on the 73-yard touchdown.

Idaho answered with two second quarter touchdowns and led 20-14 at half. UW responded with an 11-play, 90-yard scoring drive midway through the third quarter. Smith hit Dominic Rufran on a four yard scoring play which tied it at 20. The Vandals were up 27-20 and driving to extend their lead, when the Cowboys forced a fumble near the goal line. Ghaali Muhammad recovered at the Wyoming 3-yard line and three plays later, they tied it on an 15-yard Smith to Justin Berger scoring pass.

UW took a 34-27 lead on Smith’s fourth t-d toss of the game. It was an eight-yard strike to Brandon Miller with 3:37 left. That’s when Idaho responded with their game-tying effort to force the extra period.

The Cowboy defense surrendered 509 yards of total offense to the Vandals, including 203 yards rushing, but was able to force three turnovers. Junior CB Marqueston Huff led the way with 11 tackles and three pass breakups. Wyoming generated 445 yards of total offense and won the time of possession battle by 12 minutes.

Next for the Pokes is the bye week of the 2012 schedule. Their next action is October 6th, when they open Mountain West play against league newcomer Nevada in Reno. Kick-off is at 5 pm, Mountain time. You can listen to the Cowboys’ conference opener on KOWB (AM 1290), October 6th, with the broadcast starting at 4 pm.