LAS CRUCES – It wasn’t exactly the same old story for the New Mexico State University football team Saturday.
Just the same old ending.
For the first time this season, the Aggies led for most of a game. And for the first time, NMSU’s defense was good enough to win.
But in the end, visiting San Diego State did enough to pull out a 26-16 victory at Aggie Memorial Stadium, dropping the home team to 0-5 and extending its losing streak to 16 games overall.
“We’ve got to score points and our playmakers have to make plays,” Aggies coach Doug Martin said. “That’s the bottom line. Our defense was outstanding and kept coming up with answers, but scoring 16 points and going 4-for-15 on third down (conversions) offensively is not good enough to win.”
New Mexico State led 16-0 early in the second quarter and seemed primed to shock a San Diego State team that came in as a 17-point favorite despite its 0-3 record. The Aggies’ first two possessions produced long drives and resulted in 10 points.
But the Aztecs’ attacking defense basically shut NMSU down the rest of the way, and a promising start ultimately fizzled.
“Every loss is frustrating,” said safety Davis Cazares, who led NMSU with 14 tackles. “It’s the fewest points we’ve allowed and we played our best game as a defense, but we still didn’t get it done.”
Donnel Pumphrey rushed for 171 yards and three second-half touchdowns for the Aztecs, who outgained the Aggies 268-84 in second-half yards.
It was a complete reversal after a near-ideal start for the Aggies, who won the coin toss but opted to put their beleaguered defense on the field first. The Aggies came into the game ranked last nationally in rushing and scoring defense.
But NMSU forced quick three-and-outs on each of the Aztecs’ first two possessions, and in between, the Aggies’ offense put together an impressive 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive. Andrew McDonald hit Joshua Bowen with a 6-yard TD strike to give the home team a 7-0 advantage – the Aggies’ first lead since they went up briefly 7-0 at Texas in the season-opener.
Since that opener, McDonald had been splitting series with freshman King Davis III at quarterback. But Davis suffered a concussion during last week’s loss at UCLA and was not in uniform Saturday.
McDonald made his playing time count early, leading NMSU on another first-quarter scoring drive. Maxwell Johnson’s 28-yard field goal increased the lead to 10-0.
The margin grew to 16-0 when the Aggies cashed in on Darien Johnson’s recovery of a SDSU fumble. McDonald hit Andrew Dean with a 15-yard scoring pass, to the delight of an announced crowd of 16,113 fans.
But the Aztecs made a break of their own, blocking the conversion attempt and returning it the length of the field to make the score 16-2. San Diego State’s offense then began to find a rhythm, but was only able to produce a Wes Feer field goal the rest of the first half.
New Mexico State’s defense stood tall, stuffing the Aztecs on a fourth-down play at the NMSU 3 and blocking a field-goal try on the last play of the second quarter to maintain a 16-5 lead.
“We felt like we had ’em,” McDonald said of his team’s halftime mood, “but we came out in the second half and didn’t get it done.”
NMSU’s first drive of the second half ended with a fake field-goal play that did not produce a first down. Its next four possessions netted a total of one first down.
Meanwhile, Pumphrey and the Aztecs rushing game began to assert themselves. Pumphrey scored on a 12-yard run to make the score 16-11 late in the third quarter, and he scored again from two yards out to give SDSU the lead early in the fourth. His final score, a 43-yard burst with 2:51 left, put the game out of reach.
NOTE: Aggies junior wideout Austin Franklin made a surprise return Saturday and made two catches for 18 yards.
Franklin, an All-Western Athletic Conference player last season, was declared academically ineligible for NMSU’s first four games. Martin announced in the preseason that Franklin would take a redshirt year.
“I had a deal with Austin all along that if he took care of things in the classroom and did things right, he’d come back after four games,” Martin said. “I didn’t feel it was anybody’s business other than Austin’s, but we’re certainly glad to have him back.”