Lobos overcome early 14-0 deficit, thump NMSU 42-25
LAS CRUCES — If getting well looks like this, the Lobos will gladly take it.
With the help of five interceptions thrown by three New Mexico State quarterbacks, the University of New Mexico snapped a two-game losing streak to its downstate rivals with a 42-25 victory on Saturday night at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
“That drive up Interstate 25,” said UNM head coach Bob Davie afterward, “is going to look a lot better with this.”
It was far from pretty and it was anything but easy, but the win was a big step in the right direction for a team that is trying to climb out of the ashes from a tumultuous yearlong stretch dating to a loss to the Aggies in Albuquerque last September.
Lobos third-string quarterback Sherion Jones got his first career start and recovered from a miserable opening sequence in which he threw a pick six on his first pass and was dropped for a long sack on a three-and-out on UNM’s second drive.
In less than five minutes, the Lobos trailed 14-0 and had NMSU fans thinking another win over UNM was in the works.
The turnaround was provided by New Mexico’s defense. With the offense severely restricted by the slow start — and the fact that the Lobos were basically out of healthy (and proven) quarterbacks — the playbook was simplified to the point where it was up to the 1-2 punch of running backs Tyrone Owens and Ahmari Davis.
That, and conservative pocket passing by Jones.
“It was a little scary,” Davie said. “So much of our stuff is quarterback runs, mix in some option, run-pass options, quick game. We had some things in the quick game and the [run-pass option] game, but we were just so hesitant to do it.”
That led to NMSU’s defense crowding the line of scrimmage and daring the Lobos to win in a very nontraditional UNM style.
“That’s what I appreciate about our team, to weather that storm when it’s 14-0 right off the bat,” Davie said. “Knowing we were going to be limited offensively, I thought some guys picked up the slack for us.”
Jones passed for 127 yards while Owens had 110 yards rushing with a score. The big night went to Davis. He had 74 yards on 21 carries. He finished with four touchdowns, one short of tying a school record.
Davis said the running backs took extra time last week to prepare for NMSU, knowing Jones was making his first start.
“He’s third, but he really stepped up,” Davis said. “He did better than a lot of people thought he would have [done].”
The Lobos got on the board late in the first quarter with the first Davis TD run, then took the lead for good when Owens punched it in from 6 yards out to make it 21-17 at halftime. The margin grew to 35-17 early in the fourth quarter.
“There was no point in time I was like, ‘We got this game under control,’ ” UNM cornerback De’John Rogers said.
Sure enough, NMSU mounted its rally. After cutting the margin to 35-25 with 11 minutes remaining, the Aggies were inside the Lobos’ 5-yard-line when safety Marcus Hayes flashed the kind of potential Davie has been talking about all season.
He picked off a pass after cutting in on a corner route to the front pylon, then he helped nail the door shut in the final minute when he returned his second interception 60 yards for a score.
“We don’t fold,” Hayes said. “Our defense is a brotherhood and we’re going to fight for each other no matter what, even if it’s inside our 5-yard-line.”
New Mexico State used three quarterbacks. Starter Matt Romero was yanked in the second quarter after throwing two interceptions. His backup, Nick Jeanty, lasted just part of the second quarter after going 1-for-6 for 6 yards and an interception.
Josh Adkins went the rest of the way, but he had the two picks thrown to Hayes.
“It has to be the same every time,” Rogers said when asked about the Aggies’ revolving door under center. “Any quarterback they put in there. If they to put Tom Brady in there, I got to look at it the same way, honestly.”
The Lobos return home for a two-week layoff before facing Liberty on Sept. 29 in Albuquerque. It’s a layoff Davie said the team will use to get healthy and enjoy picking up a win in what was clearly a must-win situation.
“I told our team ,’If you’re going to have a good season and you’re going to be a good team, you have to win a game like this,’ ” Davie said.
Defense: New Mexico State’s missed field goal in the third quarter from 35 yards by kicker Dylan Brown was officially UNM’s second stop inside the red zone this season. That equals the number from 2017 when the Lobos had one in the opener and just one more in their final 11 games.
Attendance: The crowd was announced at 20,673, although several thousand fans were still outside the stadium as the game got underway. A line of fans stretched all the way back to the adjacent Pan American Center trying to get through security while a large throng of students remained in the tailgate lot well after kickoff.
Hart-ache: Lobos senior linebacker Alex Hart went down with a leg injury in the second quarter and never returned. The team’s leading tackler (17) through two games, he was trying to sack Romero when he went to the turf with what appeared to be a knee injury.
He returned to the UNM sideline in the second half with his leg wrapped in a protective cover.
Century mark: Davis might have gotten the accolades for his repeated trips to the end zone, but Owens going over 100 yards on the ground should not be overlooked. The senior surpassed that mark for the eighth time in his career with 110 yards with one touchdown.
His 30 carries were nearly half the rushing attempts (62) for UNM all night.