LARAMIE, Wyo. — You don’t give Usain Bolt a head start.
In a game of horse, you don’t concede Tony Snell the H, the O, R and the S.
And you don’t spot quarterback Brett Smith and his Wyoming offense a 21-point lead. It will come back to haunt you and hurt you, no matter what happens later.
It happened to the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday, when two early turnovers and some early dropped passes cost them dearly in a 38-31 loss to the Cowboys.
New Mexico is 2-4 on the season and 0-2 in Mountain West Conference play. Wyoming, which rolled up 532 yards on offense, is 4-2 and 2-0.
The Lobos rallied impressively and actually tied the game at 24 on the fourth play of the fourth quarter, and that was the focus of UNM coach Bob Davie’s remarks afterward.
“I’m really proud of this team,” he said, “the way they competed, the way they fought, the way the got themselves back in the game.”
But, he added, getting back in the game might not have been necessary had the Lobos not stopped themselves and not helped a Wyoming offense that didn’t need help.
After giving up a quick Cowboys touchdown on the game’s first offensive series, the Lobos drove to the Wyoming 12. But freshman running back Teriyon Gipson fumbled an option pitch, and Wyoming safety Marqueston Huff recovered.
“We needed to score early when we had our opportunities,” Davie said.
After Gipson’s fumble, the UNM defense forced a three-and-out. But on the second play of the ensuing Lobos’ possession, quarterback Cole Gautsche fumbled. Wyoming freshman linebacker Lucas Wacha — brother of Michael, the winning pitcher Saturday for the St. Louis Cardinals — recovered. And Smith drove the Cowboys 56 yards for a touchdown that made the score 14-0.
And it was a late turnover — a Gautsche interception in the fourth quarter — that turned into the eventual winning points and negated the Lobos’ rally.
“(The turnovers) hurt us tremendously,” said UNM senior running back Kasey Carrier, who rushed for 104 yards and caught a game-tying, 24-yard pass from Gautsche early in the fourth quarter. “… We never really got going offensively until the second half.”
Gautsche, before exiting the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury, threw the ball more often and with more accuracy than he had in his still-young UNM career. He finished 11-of-21 for 156 yards and a TD, but had several passes dropped.
With the Lobos down 14-0 sophomore Marquis Bundy didn’t lay out in an attempt to catch a deep pass from Gautsche on first down. Two plays later, tight end Andrew Aho dropped one that would have moved the chains.
After a 59-yard Ben Skaer punt, Smith and the Cowboys needed five plays to travel 79 yards and take a 21-0 lead just 45 seconds into the second quarter.
From there, the Lobos rallied on both sides of the ball. Over the game’s next 33:41, UNM outscored the Cowboys 24-3.
“We kind of weathered the storm a little bit,” Davie said. “… and I leave here pretty encouraged.”
But after Carrier scored the tying touchdown, walking a tightrope down the west sideline with a swing pass, the pendulum swung back in Wyoming’s favor.
Or, better said, Smith & Co. swung it. The Cowboys junior quarterback hit pass plays of 20 and 35 yards en route to the go-ahead touchdown.
Then, on the first play after Gautsche’s interception, Smith scored on a 48-yard run.
Junior walk-on quarterback David Vega cut the Lobos’ margin back to seven with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Bundy with 1:06 left in the game. But a UNM onside kick failed, and the Cowboys ran out the clock.
Smith had his third consecutive big game against New Mexico, rushing for 138 yards, passing for 247 and accounting for three touchdowns.
“Facing a dual-threat quarterback is always tough,” said UNM senior linebacker Dallas Bollema, who was in on nine tackles. “… There were a couple of plays that he broke outside, and that’s what a guy like Brett Smith does.”
Before his exit, Gautsche rushed for a team-best 113 yards and scored UNM’s first touchdown on a 49-yard option keeper. The seriousness of his injury is not known.