LARAMIE, Wyo. — The wagon trains rolled through here, as did the workers of the transcontinental railroad, leaving their sweat and tears along the way.
This has been a rugged place. And it was the end of a rugged three-game road stint for San Diego State, which had come here to play Wyoming, hoping to salvage something positive after two consecutive losses.
Instead, Coach Denny Stolz sounded like a weary pioneer after the Cowboys had defeated his Aztecs, 52-10, in front of a homecoming crowd of 25,018 Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium.
"We've got to get home," he said. "We were just bleeding to death out there.
"Four of our first five games on the road, with 35 new kids. They don't even know where San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium is. That was the schedule, and all we could do is play it. But we need to be home this week. We have to get home and stop the bleeding a little bit."
SDSU will play three consecutive games at home, beginning next Saturday against Texas El Paso.
But the real problem is that the patient is fading and no one seems to know the cure.
"We'll spread the blame all around. The coaches, the players, we're all in this together," Stolz said. "We didn't perform very well in the second half. But I'm not going start to start benching the seniors like some guys do in a panic. All that is just immaturity. We're not going to do that. We're going to play (hard). We'll win some games before this season is over."
The problem is the Aztecs (1-2 in conference play, 1-4 overall) are quickly slipping out of position to repeat as Western Athletic Conference champions. No team has ever won the WAC title with two conference losses. Meanwhile, Wyoming is 2-0 and 3-2.
"It is very possible we're out of the WAC race," said Harold Hicks, senior strong safety. "I just hope that people don't stop caring. I know I'm not going to stop playing every game like it's a championship game. I just hope that people don't think we're out of it and get out of it mentally and physically. We can't start going through the motions.
"Maybe going home will help us. It has been a long three (weekends) on the road."
But the Aztecs cannot count on this home stand to provide much help. Of the three games, the only conference opponent is Texas El Paso. The other two opponents are Stanford on Oct. 17 and Cal State Long Beach on Oct. 24.
The Aztecs had little reason for optimism after their performance against Wyoming. The game was a return to the problems that had plagued them.
After an improved showing in a 25-20 loss to Oregon last week, the defense broke down gain. The Cowboys gained 502 total yards, the fourth time this season a team has gained more than 500 yards against the Aztecs. The secondary, which was considered by the coaches as the team's strength before the season, was stung by Craig Burnett, Wyoming senior quarterback.
Burnett completed 18 of 31 passes for 257 yards and 4 touchdowns. Anthony Sargent caught 5 passes for 70 yards, including touchdowns of 15 and 11 yards in the third quarter. He did this despite facing an SDSU defense that deployed five defensive backs and two small but quick linebackers for much of the game.
"This was totally unexpected," Wyoming Coach Paul Roach said. "I never thought we'd score this many points."
The SDSU offense was limited to 207 total yards, its season low. Todd Santos completed 16 of 35 passes for 150 yards and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. He also threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap from center. All three turnovers led to Wyoming scores.
It was his worst performance statistically since a 10-10 tie with Hawaii two years ago in Doug Scovil's last game as coach. Playing in a driving rain, Santos completed 12 of 20 passes in that game for 91 yards.
"I didn't have a good performance," Santos said.
Wyoming, which in 4 games had made 18 turnovers and received only 5, forced 5 turnovers and committed only one, late in the game.
Two of Santos' turnovers led to Wyoming touchdowns--including one that free safety Chuck Kimbrough returned 28 yards for a touchdown--but it was his first that hurt SDSU the most.
The Aztecs trailed, 14-10, but had moved 77 yards to the Wyoming eight-yard line with less than three minutes left in the half. Santos attempted to find wide receiver Robert Claiborne cutting across the middle at the goal line, but linebacker Galand Thaxton intercepted and returned the ball eight yards to the Wyoming 10.
"Claiborne was coming under and someone knocked him off," Santos said. "I threw it anticipating him being there, and he wasn't there."
The Cowboys drove to the San Diego State 13, where Greg Worker made a 32-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to give Wyoming a 17-10 halftime lead.
"If I had to look back, I would say that (interception) was crucial," Stolz said. "That stands out in mind.
"It might have had a lot to do with the third quarter."