California's defense sacked Wyoming quarterback Tom Corontzos seven times, but the biggest of all came on a 2-point conversion attempt with 49 seconds remaining.
Tackle Joel Dickson got to Corontzos, ending the Cowboys' mad-dash comeback and giving California a 17-15 win Monday in the second Copper Bowl - the Golden Bears' first postseason victory since 1938."We had to put pressure on the quarterback," Dickson said. "The more flustered you make the quarterback, the better time the defense will have to win it for you."
Coach Bruce Snyder's Golden Bears (7-4-1) withstood two touchdowns in the last 5:53, snuffing two 2-point conversion tries by Corontzos for the victory.
Wyoming finished 9-4.
"It was a great game, an exciting game and a good way for the `old man' to go out," said Paul Roach, Wyoming's 63-year-old coach for whom the Copper Bowl was his final game.
Roach is retiring after 34 years of coaching, the last four heading the Cowboys, to concentrate on his other job as athletic director.
Snyder gave credit to both his defense and Wyoming's, which shut down his running game. The Cowboys allowed Cal, which had averaged 203 yards rushing a game behind its two 1,000-yard rushers, Anthony Wallace and Russell White, only 89 yards on the ground.
Wallace carried 17 times for 76 yards, but White was held to only 18 yards on 14 carries.
Wyoming allowed the Bears only 261 total yards.
"I think they worked very hard on stopping the run and they did a great job," Snyder said. "They never let us get into a rhythm. It is a tribute to Wyoming."
He added: "We blitzed a lot tonight. We tackled well and chased the quarterback well."
Roach said his team's "defense did a great job - they gave us every opportunity to win the game."
"We controlled Cal's running game," he said. "We felt going into it that they really had a potent running game and we did an excellent job of stopping it."
After Mike Pawlawski passed for a 25-yard touchdown to Brian Treggs early in the second quarter, Wyoming's Sean Fleming kicked a 26-yard field goal and the Cowboys trailed 7-3 at halftime.
Robbie Keen added a 46-yard field goal for Cal in the third quarter and Greg Zomalt ran 4 yards for the Bears' final score with 13:38 left, giving the Bears a 17-3 lead.
Then it was Wyoming's turn.
Jay Daffer's 11-yard touchdown run capped an 83-yard drive with 5:53 left as Wyoming pulled to 17-9.
Corontzos' 2-point pass attempt to Greg Brown was broken up, but Wyoming forced another punt and drove from its 22 to the Cal 24, where Fleming missed a 41-yard field goal.
The Cowboys held again and Robert Rivers unleashed a 70-yard punt runback to cut the deficit to the final margin. But Corontzos was sacked by Dickson while scrambling and looking for a receiver on his second 2-point try.
Roach said that going for two points after Wyoming's touchdown "let us know what we have to do to win the game. We went for it rather than postpone the decision."
Keen kicked his field goal in the third quarter.
Cal's last won in postseason play when it defeated Alabama 13-0 in the 1938 Rose Bowl. The Bears are now 3-6-1 in bowl games.
Wyoming, 4-5 in bowl games, played in its third postseason game in four years.
On its second possession of the game, Cal moved to the Wyoming 41, but Efrem Haymore intercepted Pawlawski's pass at the Wyoming 6. The Cowboys were unable to move beyond their 31, and the teams exchanged punts three times before Keen missed a 48-yard field goal attempt.
Cal stopped Wyoming's Mark Timmer on fourth-and-one at the Cowboys' 38, and three plays later Pawlawski hit Treggs on his touchdown.
"We only needed 12 inches and we were concerned with their running attack," Roach said. "I felt we needed to sustain a drive early. We didn't come in to play cozy or conservative."
Snyder said, "They put in 100 percent to win and fortunately we came out with two more points than they did."
Cal, which finished fourth in the Pacific-10 Conference, became the first Pac-10 team to win a bowl game this year.
Arizona, Oregon and Southern Cal have lost in the Aloha, Freedom and John Hancock bowls, respectively.
The Cowboys became the second Western Athletic Conference to lose a bowl this year. Colorado State beat Oregon in the only other WAC-Pac-10 matchup and Air Force also won, while BYU lost.