- Associated Press - Friday, December 23, 2016

SAN DIEGO (AP) - The Wyoming football team established a strong foundation for the future in 2016, going 8-4 in the regular season, knocking off two ranked teams and hosting a conference championship game.

But after the Cowboys’ 24-21 loss to BYU on Wednesday in the Poinsettia Bowl, the team’s focus was on the present.

It was the final game in brown and gold for the Cowboys’ senior class. Receiver Tanner Gentry and linebacker Lucas Wacha were the seniors who met with the media alongside head coach Craig Bohl after the game.

“We’re excited about the future,” Bohl said. “But that doesn’t take anything away from the sadness a couple of these seniors feel right now that are not going to be able to wear the brown and gold again.”

Wyoming started six seniors against the Cougars: Gentry, Wacha, tight end Jacob Hollister, receiver Jake Maulhardt, center Chase Roullier and running back Shaun Wick.

“Yeah, it sucks (to lose),” Wacha said. “We’re all competitors and we all want to win every game. It didn’t work out that way, but it was nice for us to be able to go to a bowl game for the first time for us or anybody sitting up here.”

With four tackles, Wacha finished his career seventh on the all-time tackles list at Wyoming, passing Ward Dobbs with 344.

Gentry had seven catches for 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the bowl game. He is currently tied for eighth in the country with 14 receiving touchdowns this season.

“It was awesome to be able to do this, and for us seniors to be able to go to our first bowl game,” Gentry said. “That’s something that’s really cool about college football is the bowl games. I think that it’s really cool that we got to experience it.

“(It’s) also cool that we kind of got to see the start of this program, going from last year to this year and giving our younger guys some good momentum headed into the offseason and for next year.”

When the Cowboys’ thoughts do turn to the future, there should be plenty of room for optimism.

“That’s really laid a great foundation for us to move forward,” Bohl said. “We’re certainly more athletic. I think our recruiting matrix has been on point. We might be a little bit ahead of where I thought we could be, but I think the biggest X-factor is our guys believe they can win. The resolve to go out and compete and never say die.

“We’ve had some close wins and we’ve come up short here and there (but) that’s been a whole change of attitude, how we see ourselves.”

The Cowboys will certainly see themselves differently than they did after the previous two seasons, when they won a combined six games.

“(The young players) got to stand on the sidelines and watch us every week, watch guys like (Wacha) go out and lead every day and they know what it takes to get to where we are now,” sophomore safety Andrew Wingard told the Casper Star-Tribune (https://bit.ly/2h9S0Jw). “Just getting to this bowl game is big. … I think this year with flipping the program around and those guys getting to see how we got here, they know what to do to get here again.

“I’m happy we got here and it really helps getting here for those young guys.”

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