San Jose, Calif.-----San Jose State University played its best defensive football game of the season in a 20-17 victory over Wyoming in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Nine times, Wyoming had a chance to take a lead in the game. It didn't happen once.
The Spartans (2-11, 1-7 Mountain West) ended a 10-game losing streak forcing the Cowboys (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West) to punt 10 times, coming up with a pair of first-half pass interceptions by cornerback Dakari Monroe and stopping the Cowboys on their next to last possession of the game when defensive lineman Salosi Latu knocked down quarterback Nick Smith's pass near the line of scrimmage on fourth-down.
There was more to the defense than Monroe's interceptions, the first of which led to the Spartans' 7-0 lead, and Latu's key fourth-quarter, fourth-down play. Cornerback Jermaine Kelly was just as effective opposite fellow cornerback Monroe with a pair of pass break-ups and tight coverage throughout the game. Every member of the starting 11 on defense found a way to be in on a key play or big play that was part of the victory.
The Spartans used a blend of pressures and containment schemes that frustrated the Wyoming passing game and eventually led to a pair of quarterback sacks - one each by linebacker Jamal Scott and defensive lineman Owen Roberts. San Jose State had just one quarterback sack in its previous six games combined.
Though Cowboys' 220-pound reserve running back Kellen Overstreet rushed for a game-high 139 yards on 17 carries, the San Jose State defensive front stayed fresh with its rotation of seven players - three of them freshmen for the future in Sinjun Astani, Kyle Hoppe and Christian Johnson. Starters Bryson Bridges and Roberts combined for 3.5 of the team's 10.0 tackles for loss.
And, linebacker Frank Ginda cemented his lead as the nation's leading tackler with 10 stops including 1.5 tackles for loss. He finished the season with 173 tackles and a team-high 13.0 tackles for loss.
Even with the play by the defense, San Jose State needed and got enough offense and quality special teams play for a complete team win.
Placekicker Bryce Crawford finally had an opportunity to try a field goal for the first time in November and came through with a 44-yarder in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead with 10:39 before halftime and a 52-yard boot with 47 seconds to go in the third quarter to keep the Spartans ahead, 13-7.
Leading from start to finish in each of its two victories this season, San Jose State struck first after Monroe's first interception off of a deflected pass thrown by Smith and return of 33 yards to the Wyoming 22-yard line. Five plays later, Montel Aaron raced around left end from 5-yards out for a 7-0 Spartan lead.
Following Crawford's 44-yard field goal, it took Wyoming two more possessions before scoring for the first time in the game on a 1-yard quarterback push up the middle by Smith. The Cowboys' drive was set up by a 55-yard punt return by Austin Conway down to the Spartans' 23-yard line.
Wyoming kicker Cooper Rothe figured prominently in the game's outcome. After converting a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the Cowboys' deficit to 13-10, Rothe had a chance to tie the game with 8:53 in the fourth quarter. Kicking with the slightest of breeze, his 49-yard try hit the crossbar and bounced harmlessly into the end zone. Rothe had kicked a 49-yard field goal in the 24-3 season-opening loss at Iowa.
San Jose State added to its 13-10 lead with a 44-yard touchdown run by DeJon Packer with 2:09 to go.
The Cowboys answered quickly when Smith and C.J. Johnson connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass with 1:07 remaining, but Justin Holmes of San Jose State recovered the ensuing onside kick and the victory celebration on the Spartan sideline was imminent.
Wyoming outgained San Jose State, 357 to 320. Smith, starting in place of Josh Allen, a projected number-one draft pick in the 2018 NFL draft, was 17-of-37 with two interceptions for 171 yards and a touchdown. It was the first time this season, the Spartan defense contributed to an opposing quarterback throwing 20 incomplete passes.
Aaron had his ups and downs throwing the ball, but managed to complete 15-of-29 with an interception for 174 yards. He was just 4-of-10 in the first quarter. Wide receiver Tre Hartley finished as the team's leading receiver for the season with 37 catches. Hartley led all players in the Wyoming game with a single-game career best of seven receptions for 109 yards, matching his total a week earlier at Colorado State.