Wyoming, Kent State rewrite Potato Bowl records at Boise State


Wyoming wide receiver Isaiah Neyor catches a 42-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Tuesday at Albertstons Stadium.

Levi Williams began this season as Wyoming’s backup quarterback. He ended it as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP.

Williams, a sophomore, tied a Potato Bowl record with four rushing touchdowns and accounted for five scores to lead Wyoming to a 52-38 win over Kent State on Tuesday at Albertsons Stadium. He was extra motivated heading into the game, after his grandmother died while the Cowboys were busy preparing for their bowl.

“It’s hard, but God called her home and she’s dancing with my grandpa in heaven right now, and I’m sure she’s having a great time,” Williams said after the game.

Sean Chambers opened the season as Wyoming’s starting quarterback and led the team to four straight wins. Then the Cowboys lost their first three games against Mountain West teams, including a 14-3 setback against New Mexico, which led the coaching staff to make a change. Williams took over the following week against San Jose State — another loss — and never surrendered the job.

“He’s certainly talented and a leader, and he can run like the wind,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. “Anytime you have a player that can do that, it just gives you so many more weapons.”

Wyoming football players shower head coach Craig Bohl with a bath of french fries after defeating Kent State 52-38 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Tuesday at Albertstons Stadium. Darin Oswald

This is the second time in Williams’ career that he took over as the starting quarterback during the season and led the Cowboys to a bowl victory. In 2019, he led Wyoming past Georgia Southern in the Arizona Bowl after Chambers was lost to an injury late in the season. Williams said being ready at a moment’s notice is just part of a quarterback’s job.

“It’s about not quitting and playing your role, and I feel like I played my role pretty well,” he said. “I’m just happy to get another bowl victory under my belt and happy to end the year the right way.”

Williams’ four rushing touchdowns tied the Potato Bowl record set by former Georgia Tech running back P.J. Daniels in 2003. Daniels also owns the Potato Bowl record for most rushing yards, with 307 in that 2003 game.

On Tuesday, Williams racked up 200 yards on the ground, which ranks No. 4 all-time in the game’s history. He is the first quarterback in NCAA history to have 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a bowl game.

Williams set another Potato Bowl record with his final rushing touchdown, which covered 80 yards and gave Wyoming a 42-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. His run broke a record set by former Boise State quarterback Bart Hendricks, who had a 77-yard run against UTEP in 2000 when the game was known as the Humanitarian Bowl.

“They kind of threw a mixed bag of things at us today,” Kent State cornerback Montre Miller said of Wyoming’s rushing attack. “We tried to limit (Williams) as much as possible, but it’s back to the drawing board.”

Wyoming’s first drive of the day ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Williams, and he struck with his legs again in the second quarter. After a fake handoff got the defense flowing to his left, Williams took off to his right and sprinted down the Golden Flashes’ sideline for a 50-yard touchdown, which cut Kent State’s lead to 17-14 with 5:35 left in the first half.

“(Williams) did a really good job making decisions in their run game, and he did a nice job breaking tackles downfield,” Kent State head coach Sean Lewis said.

Williams scored his third rushing touchdown of the day on Wyoming’s first possession of the second half. He called his own number to cap an eight-play scoring drive with a 27-yard run, which put the Cowboys on top 28-24 in what was a back-and-forth game for much of the day.

His lone touchdown pass in the game gave the Cowboys a short-lived lead late in the first half, when he found wide receiver Isaiah Neyor from 42 yards out.

Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum celebrates his touchdown run that put the Golden Flashes up 14-7 over Wyoming in the first quarter of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 at Albertstons Stadium in Boise.ertstons Stadium in Boise. Darin Oswald

A record day on blue turf at Boise State

Wyoming (7-6) and Kent State (7-7) combined for 1,187 yards of offense, and the teams set a Potato Bowl record with 723 rushing yards. The Cowboys had 404 of those — another record — blowing past the 371 that Georgia Tech rushed for in 2003.

Cowboys starting running back Xazavian Valladay finished with 79 yards and a touchdown, and third-string running back Trey Smith added 73 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Wyoming has built its reputation over the years with a physical running game, and the offensive line took over on Tuesday, Bohl said.

“We have shown at times to be really explosive on offense,” Bohl said. “But to be able to compose a game plan and have players buy in and get the yards we did that were generated mostly by the offensive line, it’s heartwarming.”

Kent State’s offense had no trouble moving the ball. The Golden Flashes set a Potato Bowl record with 656 total yards, and quarterback Dustin Crum etched his name in the game’s record book as well.

After Williams’ first rushing touchdown, Crum found wide receiver Dante Cephas on an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the ensuing drive. It was the longest touchdown pass in Potato Bowl history. Crum completed 16-of-26 passes for 265 yards and four touchdowns on Tuesday, and just about every time Wyoming looked like it was going to pull away, he had an answer.

“He’s a warrior,” Lewis said. “When he steps into the arena, there is not a better competitor in all of college football. He’s an elite leader and an elite decision maker, and for him to go out and have another day like he did, it speaks to who he is, how he competes and more importantly how he prepares.”

The Golden Flashes carried a 14-7 lead into the second quarter after Crum capped an 11-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. After Wyoming took the lead late in the first half, he quickly got the Golden Flashes into scoring position with a 37-yard run. Two plays later, he found Ja’Shaun Polk on a 3-yard touchdown pass, which sent Kent State into halftime with a 24-21 lead.

Crum threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter: a 6-yard strike to tight end Hayden Junker, which cut Wyoming’s lead to 42-31, and a 73-yarder to wide receiver Devontez Walker with a little less than 3 minutes left.

Crum, who will play in the East-West Shrine game in February, also got plenty of help from the running game, which totaled 319 yards. Marquez Cooper led the Golden Flashes with 125 rushing yards and Bryan Bradford finished with 109.

Executive director McDonald retires

Spending the past 15 years as the executive director of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has been a dream come true for former Boise State football player Kevin McDonald.

“To have a chance in my late 40s to come in here and get back into college football has been a blast,” McDonald said Tuesday.

This year’s Potato Bowl was McDonald’s last. He is retiring, but just like during his playing career, the 63-year-old has made some memories that will stand the test of time since taking over as the game’s leader in 2007.

“You look back 25 years when Gene Bleymaier started this game, nobody thought it would last,” McDonald said. “But the community around the game made it special and ESPN is totally behind this game, so it’s only going to continue to grow.”

McDonald was a quarterback at Boise State from 1978 to 1980, and he was a backup on the Broncos’ 1980 Division I-AA national championship team.

“I didn’t even play in the championship game, but I’ll always remember it and the lifelong friendships I made along the way,” he said.

A native of Idaho Falls, McDonald lives in Boise and said he doesn’t plan to go anywhere. He said he plans to enjoy a retirement full of family time, skiing and golf lessons.

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Ron Counts is the Boise State football beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and spent three years covering the University of Virginia before joining the Statesman.

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