LAS CRUCES — A twin trifecta paid off handsomely for the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday night.
Larry Rose III scored three touchdowns, Shamad Lomax snared three interceptions — including a pick-six — and New Mexico State rolled over rival UTEP 41-14 in front of announced 17,546 fans at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
New Mexico State evened its record at 2-2 but also accomplished some longstanding objectives. NMSU defeated its I-10 rival for the first time since 2008 and swept its two biggest rivals — UTEP and UNM — for the first time in a season since 2002.
The score was 7-7 after one quarter, but the Aggies dominated the final 45 minutes. They outgained the Miners 462-227 overall and intercepted UTEP quarterbacks five times — one off NMSU’s program record for a single game.
Aggies coach Doug Martin didn’t need to look at the stats to see what he most wanted from the game. He could see that clearly from the sideline.
“This is a signature win to me because we were finally able to match up physically with UTEP,” Martin said. “In the past they always just pounded us, but tonight we were the more physical team. That’s a measuring mark to me and I’m really proud of our football team.”
It was also a big night for Rose as New Mexico State won the battle up front. The senior rushed 17 times for a season-best 144 yards, scoring on runs of 40 and 28 yards and later finding the end zone on a 2-yard pass from Tyler Rogers.
Rose had not scored a touchdown in NMSU’s first three games this season.
“It was good to prove to myself that I still got it,” Rose said with a laugh.
Rose was a bit more serious when asked about finally getting a victory over UTEP.
“It feels great actually,” he said, “because that was one of the goals when I came here. It was beat UNM, beat UTEP and go to a bowl game. It’s good to finally check two of those boxes.”
As a sophomore defensive back, Lomax couldn’t offer quite as much perspective, but he understood the importance of the win around southern New Mexico.
“People in the community talk about it all the time,” he said. “Beating UTEP is really big around Las Cruces. I appreciate being part of that.”
Lomax’s interceptions, in fact, played a huge role. His first pick of the evening set up Rose’s first touchdown of the season. One play after the interception, Rose broke a 40-yard run to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead.
UTEP answered with a drive reminiscent of many others during the Miners’ streak of domination against NMSU. The Miners drove 81 yards on 12 plays, controlling the line of scrimmage and getting even on quarterback Ryan Metz’s 5-yard run.
But the struggling Miners (0-4) could not sustain any momentum. The Aggies took the lead for good on Rose’s weaving 28-yard scamper in the second quarter, and Lomax made it 21-7 by intercepting a Metz pass and taking it all the way across the field for a 19-yard touchdown.
“The coaches always tell us to just get to the sideline,” Lomax said, “but I knew how close I was on that one. I said, ‘I’ve got to score on this one.’ Luckily I did.”
NMSU took a 21-7 lead to halftime, but Martin and his players did not feel at all comfortable. Asked if he thought about the Aggies’ 30-28 win at UNM, one NMSU led 30-5 at one point, and Martin shook his head.
“Only about every other second,” he said. “We still didn’t do a great job finishing, but we did a little better tonight.”
The Aggies effectively put things out of reach with three straight scores in the second half. Rose scored on a short pass from Rogers, who later hit Conner Cramer with a 10-yard TD pass. Rogers, who finished 26-for-43 passing for 283 yards, called his own number on a 4-yard touchdown run that made it 41-7 early in the fourth quarter.
UTEP, which finished with just 92 yards passing, got the final points when lineman Trace Mascorro scooped up a Christian Gibson fumble and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
SATURDAY: NMSU at Arkansas, 10 a.m., 99.5 FM (Las Cruces), 1150 AM (Albuquerque)