Gradually, inexorably, though by no means sensationally, the New Mexico Lobos opened their 2017 season with a 38-14 victory over Abilene Christian Saturday night at Dreamstyle Stadium.
Senior quarterback Lamar Jordan passed for a career high 213 yards, and senior Daryl Chestnut — aided by a crushing block from fellow running back Romell Jordan — broke a 54-yard touchdown run as the Lobos rallied from a desultory first half.
Romell Jordan, a Cleveland High School graduate seeing his first game action since the 2015 season, also had a 44-yard run that set up a 37-yard touchdown pass from Lamar Jordan (no relation) to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jay Griffin.
Senior nickel safety Jake Rothschiller contributed a 91-yard touchdown on a pass interception, and a sack and a forced fumble that set up a Jason Sanders field goal.
Lobos coach Bob Davie gave the performance mixed reviews.
He was pleased that his predominantly young defense, after giving up a 99-yard-plus touchdown drive on Abilene Christian’s first possession of the game, allowed just 183 yards the rest of the way.
“Once we got adjusted a little bit, got up on them a little bit tighter, I actually felt pretty good,” he said.
Offensively, UNM struck a rare run-pass balance, rushing for 259 yards and throwing for 222. The Lobos had seven plays of 27 yards or more, three on the ground and four through the air.
But Davie ticked off several mistakes — a roughing-the-kicker penalty that kept an ACU drive alive, two lost fumbles, a touchdown pass given up with 14 seconds left in the game — and cited a struggle to run between the tackles.
“Obviously, there are a lot of things that we have improve on,” he said. “But we’re 1-0. I don’t take any of these things for granted.”
After returning to the field for the second half with a tenuous, 14-7 lead, the Lobos gradually assumed control — if not real dominance.
With 6:04 left in the third quarter, Chestnut took a pitch and, sprung by that crushing Romell Jordan block, went 54 yards down the east sideline for a touchdown.
With power back Richard McQuarley bottled up inside, Chestnut said, outside speed was the antidote.
“They were stacking the whole box, so we made that adjustment,” he said. “We just ran regular speed option, things we work on in practice.”
A Rothschiller sack and an Alex Hart fumble recovery then set up a 25-yard Jason Sanders field goal with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
Rothschiller’s fourth-quarter touchdown interception return made the final outcome a comfortable one.
The Lobos’ early troubles on defense, Rothschiller said, were not difficult to solve.
“I just think it was first-game jitters,” he said. “… Once we got out there on their second drive and in the second half, we were ready to go.”
Abilene Christian, an FCS school, had only 99 yards total offense in the second half.
The game began the way most everyone thought it would — with the Lobos, 34-point favorites, driving goalward on the first possession of the game.
Then, things changed.
After a 15-yard Tyrone Owens run, a 19-yard Lamar Jordan to Chris Davis pass and a 27-yard Lamar Jordan run set up the Lobos with a first down at the ACU 7, UNM failed to punch it in. McQuarley, a 221-pound senior, was stopped a half-yard short of the goal.
The Wildcats proceeded to stun the opening-night crowd of 21,475 by driving 99½ yards on 15 plays for the game’s first touchdown.
The Lobos answered with a five-play, 71-yard drive, featuring Lamar Jordan completions of 27 and 17 yards and a 4-yard touchdown run by Chestnut.
After ACU missed a long field goal, UNM grabbed the lead with on a 4-yard Owens run set up by a 47-yard completion from Lamar Jordan to junior wide receiver Delane Hart-Johnson. Well covered on the play, Hart-Johnson shielded a defender from the ball with his body and outleaped him for the ball.
The Lobos, however, wasted a 42-yard Lamar Jordan-to-Q’ Drennan completion and a pass interception by Jacob Girgle in the final 11:20 of the half.
After the interception, New Mexico had the ball on the ACU 45-yard line with 50 seconds and two timeouts with which to work. But after Lamar Jordan was sacked on first down, UNM allowed the second quarter to expire without calling a timeout.