LAS CRUCES — “It’s time,” the New Mexico State University football team’s chosen motto for 2012, decorated both end zones of Aggie Memorial Stadium on Thursday night.
Appropriately, the home team didn’t waste much.
Quarterback Andrew Manley passed for a career-best 367 yards, connected on three long touchdown passes and led NMSU to a season-opening 49-19 win over Sacramento State in front of 12,118 fans.
The quick-strike Aggies racked up 468 yards of offense and moved the ball almost at will through the air. Still, the win was not as easy as the final score made it seem.
After rolling to a 28-3 lead. the Aggles were on their heels late in the third quarter. Sacramento State scored on three straight possessions, trailed 28-19 and had the ball with a chance to get closer.
“There are definitely things we’ve got to get fixed,” NMSU coach DeWayne Walker said afterward. “But good football teams know how to change the momentum at the right times. We did that with some takeaways and basically took the game.”
Those takeaways — two forced fumbles and an interception — indeed turned things back in the home team’s favor. The Aggies punched in three rushing TDs in the fourth quarter to retake command.
“We knew (the Hornets) would change things up in the second half, and they did,” Manley said. “It was like a chess game; they got some moves on us and we got them back. All in all, I think we did a good job adjusting.”
Wide receiver Austin Franklin had a huge night for the Aggies, pulling eight catches for 236 yards and two scores. It was the third-highest single-game receiving total in NMSU history. The speedy sophomore scored on 53- and 84-yard strikes in the first half, and set up another score with a 50-yard catch.
“I really didn’t think I could have a night like this,” Franklin said. “It just came to me. I was surprised (the Hornets) played man as much as they did.”
Walker just smiled when asked about Franklin’s performance.
“Awesome,” he said. “He’s a great player, and he proved that tonight.”
Walker wasn’t at all surprised by his team’s passing success, but was a bit disappointed with its running game. NMSU rushed 40 times for 101 yards but didn’t generate much until the fourth quarter.
“We have to run the ball better, especially if we’re going to beat a good Ohio team next week,” Walker said. “But we’ll be stubborn about it. We will run the ball better.”
Also of concern were the 397 total yards NMSU surrendered to Sacramento State. Hornets quarterback Garrett Safron passed for 308 yards and two scores, though he also threw an interception and fumbled twice.
“When you look up and just gave up 19 points, that’s pretty good,” Aggies cornerback Darien Johnson said. “But we gave up way too many yards.”
Shortcomings aside, the Aggies weren’t about to sell short a victory for a program that needs as many as it can get in 2012. NMSU is without a football conference for next season and expects to play as an independent in 2013.
The “it’s time” motto refers to a general belief within NMSU’s program that the 2012 team is not only due but equipped for success. While much stiffer opponents than the Football Championship Subdivision Hornets await on the schedule, Thursday’s win provided needed momentum.
“I told the players, all that really matters is did we have more points at the end of the game,” Walker said. “Was it perfect? Not at all. But in the end, 49-19 is what matters. We’re going to enjoy that — then get back to work and try to play better against Ohio.”
NEW MEXICO ST. 49, SACRAMENTO ST. 19
Sacramento St. 0 10 9 0—19
New Mexico St. 7 21 0 21—49
First Quarter NMSU—Franklin 53 pass from Manley (Stampler kick), 9:11. Second Quarter NMSU—Powell 2 run (Stampler kick), 11:53. NMSU—J.Brown 50 pass from Manley (Stampler kick), 8:22. Sac—FG Castaneda 32, 2:35. NMSU—Franklin 84 pass from Manley (Stampler kick), 1:29. Sac—D.Carter 8 pass from Safron (Castaneda kick), :17. Third Quarter Sac—FG Castaneda 25, 11:01. Sac—Knowles 25 pass from Safron (kick blocked), 6:42. Fourth Quarter NMSU—Morrison 12 run (Stampler kick), 13:45.
NMSU—Powell 2 run (Stampler kick), 6:45. NMSU—Clay 5 run (Stampler kick), :23. A—12,118.
First downs 18 18
Rushes-yards 31-89 40-101
Passing 308 367
Comp-Att-Int 23-35-1 14-22-0
Return Yards 37 0
Punts-Avg. 5-41.2 6-50.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 3-0
Penalties-Yards 9-58 7-70
Time of Possession 27:44 32:16
RUSHING—Sacramento St., Graham 16-47, Safron 7-27, McCowan 4-8, Ellis 4-7. New Mexico St., Clay 11-33, Morrison 8-32, Mustafa 9-29, Powell 5-13, Oyenuga 2-6, Manley 5-(minus 12).
PASSING—Sacramento St., Safron 23-35-1-308. New Mexico St., Manley 14-22-0-367.
RECEIVING—Sacramento St., Norrise 7-84, Knowles 5-75, D.Carter 4-81, Graham 3-41, McCowan 2-7, Robertson 1-12, Harrison 1-8. New Mexico St., Franklin 8-236, Bateman 3-44, J.Brown 2-59, Matthews 1-28.