ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the New Mexico Lobos, the second half of Saturday’s football season finale at Colorado State was a tantalizing, frustrating exercise in what could have been.
Senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook, playing for the first time since Oct. 27, threw for more yards in one half than the Lobos had amassed through the air in any of their previous 12 games.
The threat of the pass gave some life to the Lobos’ running game, which had been stuffed by the Rams in the first half. Offensive balance, missing in action for the Lobos all season, finally made an appearance.
Meanwhile, the UNM defense, having given up touchdowns on CSU’s first two drives of the game, held the Rams to a single field goal on their next seven possessions.
And a letter-perfect touchdown pass from Holbrook to redshirt freshman running back Jhurell Pressley gave the Lobos the lead with 3:12 left in the game — the latest they’d held a lead in any game since they defeated Hawaii on Oct. 13.
“It was pretty exciting,” Holbrook said after the game. “It was good to see that spark and kind of get that feeling, that, hey, we can do this.”
Yet, for all that, the Lobos (4-9 overall, 1-7 in Mountain West Conference play) left Hughes Stadium with their sixth consecutive loss — and no game this week, or any week, until next fall.
Junior linebacker Dallas Bollema ached for his 23 senior teammates, most of whom will not play football again.
“These guys (the seniors) are like my brothers,” said Bollema, who set up the Lobos’ first touchdown with an interception and a 35-yard return. “I’ve been with them every step of the way, and for them not to go out with a victory in their last game … it’s tough.”
The seniors were tough, too, having done all they could on Saturday to go out as winners.
In that effort, Holbrook was front and center.
As of last Wednesday, coach Bob Davie was saying Holbrook’s participation against CSU would be limited and little more than symbolic. The senior quarterback separated his right, throwing shoulder four weeks earlier against Fresno State.
But Holbrook’s condition evidently improved later in the week. True freshman quarterback Cole Gautsche, meanwhile, was battling the flu — though he played against Colorado State and had 41 yards rushing.
Holbrook, given the start, looked rusty at first.
“I definitely didn’t have the best first half,” he said. “A lot of mental mistakes on my part. I tried to make it up to my team in the second half, but just came up a little bit short.”
The game ended with the Lobos, having given up a 20-17 lead on a late Colorado State touchdown drive, at the Colorado State 16-yard line having driven from their own 25. But three consecutive incompletions ended the threat and the game.
So ends Holbrook’s star-crossed college career, during which he has undergone surgery for a chronic knee condition, twice missed playing time with shoulder injuries, and had bouts with mononucleosis and pericarditis.
“I was hoping for (Holbrook) more than anyone,” Davie said, “the last play of the game, he could have a magical moment. But it wasn’t meant to be.”
STAT SHEET: Junior running back Kasey Carrier’s hard-earned 59 yards against CSU were enough to give him a school record for rushing in a season with 1,469 yards. He dropped to 12th nationally, however, with an average of 122.4 yards per game.
The Lobos finished with 137 yards rushing against the Rams, snapping their streak of nine consecutive 300-plus-yard games. They’ll finish the season ranked fifth nationally in rushing with an average of 301, provided Navy — sixth at 285 — doesn’t go crazy against Army on Dec. 8.
New Mexico remains No. 1 in average time of possession at 33:48 minutes per game. After having the ball for just 10 minutes, 30 seconds in the first half against CSU, the Lobos kept possession for 17:39 in the second half.
And Holbrook’s 205 yards through the air against CSU helped move the Lobos out of 120th and last place in passing offense at 51.3 yards per game— provided Army, last with 42.7 per game, doesn’t go all pass-happy against Navy.
Flashback: New Mexico (4-9 overall, 1-7 in Mountain West Conference play) rallies from an early 14-0 deficit to take a 20-17 lead with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game, but gives up a late Colorado State touchdown and loses 24-20 to the Rams (4-8, 3-5) in the Lobos’ season finale.
What Went Right: The Lobos mounted a stirring second-half rally behind the passing of senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook, who hadn’t played in almost a month because of a separated shoulder. Holbrook’s pass to running back Jhurell Pressley for a 55-yard, go-ahead touchdown was a thing of beauty. Senior wideouts Ty Kirk and Lamaar Thomas, whose receiving talents were wasted most of the season, caught a combined seven passes for 74 yards. Starting safeties Freddy Young and Matt Raymer, both seniors, finished their careers with a combined 23 total tackles. Junior linebacker Dallas Bollema halted CSU’s early momentum and set up UNM’s first touchdown with a 35-yard interception return.
What Went Wrong: For the fifth time this season, the Lobos had the ball with a chance to win in the final moments — and lost. After a strong defensive second half, UNM looked helpless on the decisive Colorado State drive. Yet, even though they took the lead in the fourth quarter, one can argue that the Lobos lost this one in the first quarter by giving up touchdowns on the Rams’ first two drives of the game.
Injury Report: Those who return next season have about three months to heal up before spring practice begins.
Quoting Coach Bob Davie: “(Holbrook) really stepped up. For a guy that had an AC (shoulder) separation four weeks ago … that’s what B.R.’s all about.”
Next Up: Texas-San Antonio at New Mexico, Aug. 31, 2013.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal