The New Mexico Lobos, coach Bob Davie says virtually every week, are what they are.
Who and what they are this morning, after Saturday’s 28-23 loss to Wyoming at University Stadium, is a complicated matter.
Heartbroken? Most likely. The defeat, the Lobos’ fourth in a row, ended their chances of reaching a bowl game after having won just three games combined the three years before.
They can win no more than six games this season and needed seven to become bowl-eligible.
“It hurts. Of course it hurts,” said fifth-year senior wide receiver Ty Kirk, whose four catches for 108 yards and a touchdown went for naught. “… I’d rather go out there and block all game and get a win than go over 100 (yards receiving) and lose.”
Frustrated? No doubt. The Lobos (4-7 overall, 1-5 in Mountain West Conference play) dominated this game statistically, rolling up a season-high 551 yards of total offense behind the running and – surprise! – the passing of true freshman quarterback Cole Gautsche. But long pass plays given up by the UNM defense in the first half put the Lobos in a 21-7 hole at intermission.
They almost, but not quite, managed to climb out as a crowd announced at 17,839 looked on.
Pride, determination? Those too.
The Lobos have two games left, at home against Nevada next Saturday and at Colorado State on Nov. 24.
“We’re gonna go out and finish this season how it needs to be finished,” junior linebacker Dallas Bollema said. “We’re playing for (the seniors) and they’re playing for us, and we’re just gonna make the best of it and enjoy the team that we have the rest of this season.”
Those final two games might have meant far more had the Lobos been able to finish a fourth-quarter drive that began on their 10-yard line with 6:22 left.
Down by the eventual final margin of five points, UNM moved deliberately to its 42 on six rushing plays, taking almost four minutes off the clock.
The plan, Davie said, was to march down the field, score the go-ahead touchdown and leave Wyoming with little time to respond.
“We were gonna take it down, and we were gonna score,” Davie said. “That’s what we are. So, we felt really good in that situation.”
On a third-and-6, Kasey Carrier gained 4 yards. But offensive guard LaMar Bratton was flagged for a personal foul after the play was over, leaving UNM with a fourth-and-17 from its 31.
“I hate to see that call made,” Davie said of the penalty. “I think most people hate to see a call like that made in that situation unless it’s a chop block or just a blatant hold.”
The Lobos punted, forced a Wyoming punt and got the ball back on its 39 with 1:40 left. But four Gautsche incompletions later, the game was effectively over.
Touchdown pass plays of 81, 64 and 33 yards given up in the first half, Davie said, proved too much to overcome.
But, he said, “I’m really proud of this football team. … We gave up some grenades in the first half … but they stuck in there, they played, they fought, and they gave themselves a chance to win at the end of the game.”
The Lobos struck first after a scoreless first quarter, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Gautsche to tight end Andrew Aho to cap a 13-play, 96-yard drive.
Gautsche finished with 149 yards rushing and was 8-of-15 passing for 155 yards and two touchdown throws. He’d entered the game with a total of 67 yards through the air and no passing touchdowns on the season.
The Cowboys (3-7, 2-4) responded with three Brett Smith touchdown throws in a span of 7 minutes, 11 seconds.
“We continue to give up the big play,” Davie said. “There’s no secret where people try to expose us.”
New Mexico trimmed the margin five minutes into the second half when Gautsche found Kirk all alone for a 52-yard touchdown. The Lobos’ Justus Adams added a 20-yard field goal as UNM held the Cowboys scoreless in the third quarter.
“We just had a few mental errors in the first half,” Bollema said of the defense. “… In the second half, everyone was a little more locked in.”
But Wyoming extended its lead to 28-17 with a nine-play, 65-yard drive and led 28-17 with 13:23 left in the game. The Lobos drove 71 yards for a touchdown to pull within five at the 8:59 mark, but they got no closer.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal