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San Diego State claims the 2016 Mountain West by winning a thriller at Wyoming

The Aztecs won an exciting conference championship game in Laramie.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-San Diego State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State beat Wyoming on Saturday night, 27-24 to claim the Mountain West’s championship for 2016 and a Las Vegas Bowl bid. The Aztecs had to play in Laramie with the Cowboys hosting, but they figured enough things out and won a pretty entertaining game.

It ended when SDSU stopped Wyoming on a fourth-and-20 in the game’s final minute, after the teams traded chances to win the game before that. Wyoming’s last drive included three incompletions, a holding penalty, and allowing a game-ending sack of quarterback Josh Allen.

It’s SDSU’s second conference title in a row – the first time the program’s accomplished that feat in more than four decades.

The game had some quirky turns. SDSU’s punter launched a 75-yard behemoth of a punt in the first half, perhaps aided by thin air at Laramie’s altitude. Wyoming’s quarterback turned a sure pick-six into a touchback and a four-yard gain, which makes sense if you watch it. This wasn’t boring.

The Aztecs trailed 10-0 shortly before the end of the first quarter, but they took control by running up 24 unanswered points until the fourth quarter. That gave way to intrigue down the stretch, with the league title squarely in the balance. And the Aztecs, despite some late foibles, held up on defense to win.

San Diego State had a chance to ice the game with a touchdown with four minutes left to play, but the Aztecs fumbled the ball away to Wyoming. The Pokes, who’d closed to within a field goal, had a drive to win the game. The teams traded fourth-down conversion failures after that, so Wyoming got the ball, down 27-24, with just more than a minute to play, sitting at its own 24. That set up Wyoming’s awful final drive, which netted negative-15 yards over 33 seconds.

It’s a great victory for SDSU, which gets to double-digit wins for the second year in a row under coach Rocky Long. The Aztecs avoided a second Laramie disappointment in less than a month, after they lost on a failed two-point conversion in their last visit. That, clearly, didn’t hurt so much, because they had the MWC’s West division well in hand already. Winning the league is probably a good way to forget about it.

Wyoming’s loss shouldn’t cloud the fact that the Pokes have been a great story. They’re 8-5 now in Craig Bohl’s third season, after they went a combined 6-18 in his first two. They’re still en route to a bowl game –- the Poinsettia, against BYU, perhaps — and that’s a big achievement given how things were previously. They just won’t get the cherry on top that is a conference title.