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Tuioti shines as starter, Lobos romp in opener

Throughout the month of August, much was made about a three-man quarterback battle for the New Mexico football team.

However, among the Lobos most knew that all signs were pointing toward Tevaka Tuioti as the one who would be the winner in the competition that included senior Coltin Gerhart and junior transfer Sheriron Jones.

On the first day of September, Tuioti proved the job went to the right quarterback.

The redshirt sophomore threw for a career-high 327 yards and four touchdowns, completing 13 of his 21 passes in three quarters of work to lead the Lobos to a 62-30 victory over Incarnate Word in front of 18,213 on Saturday night at Dreamstyle Stadium. The Cardinals, an FCS program, received $325,000 for the game.

“The first game was all about getting the jitters out,” Tuioti said in response to a question as to whether his motivation was to prove the right decision was made at quarterback. “I don’t know how to really answer that.”

Tuioti, who had four career TDs entering Saturday night, had but two blemishes, a fumble and an interception. But he quickly bounced back from the two turnovers when he converted a key play with five seconds left in the first half.

He threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Lilly that gave UNM a 35-16 lead going into the half.

Lilly made the switch to offense after playing cornerback in the past. Coach Bob Davie had been wanting to get the ball in his hands after watching Lilly make big plays as a kick returner.

Davie, in fact, wanted to use his wide receivers more this season with first-year offensive coordinator Calvin Magee aboard. Davie used the word, “tweak,” to describe the change, but it has turned out to be a complete makeover with more run-option-plays from Magee’s spread offense that he learned from Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona.

“We’re explosive,” Davie said. “We’re fast. I think we can throw it around.”

Davie, however, was disappointed with the defense.

“Defensively, boy, it was a tough night,” Davie said. “I give (Incarnate Word) credit, they are talented.

“We all know it’s not always going to be like this. To be honest, we really can’t win like we played tonight. They completed balls on our corners when I know we can play better. But I give them credit. It was a tough night defensively. We obviously know we have to get better. We thought we would play better, but we didn’t. But we won the game.”

Lobo Tyrone Owens is brought down by a host of UIW players during the first half of the game. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Davie said he never wanted his choice for the starting quarterback to be dramatic. He said the competition was close, but also talked about Tuioti’s potential to become a special football player for the Lobos.

The touchdown to Lilly displayed that special quality and knack for the big play that Tuioti possesses. However, assuredly he’ll be heavily tested at Madison next week when the Lobos take on No. 4 Wisconsin.

For now, the Lobos got their much-needed win. This is the momentum that Davie had always wanted, a victory needed after seven straight losses to end last season.

The Lobos were heavily favored to beat the FCS program with a first-year coach, Eric Morris.

Still, UNM showed up as a different team from those of years past under Davie, who is in his seventh season.

The Lobos were aggressive and made big plays in their passing game with Tuioti leading the way. They were efficient. They scored on their first four possessions.

Incarnate Word made a bit of a surprise start with its quarterback, going with true freshman Jon Copeland.

He was impressive, particularly in the opening drive when the Cardinals scored on their first possession to grab a 7-0 lead.

The Lobos needed to answer, and they did. Davie said tight ends would be more involved in the offense this season. He wasn’t lying.

Marcus Williams caught the first of his two touchdowns on a 10-yard reception, the Lobos’ first score of the season.

Williams, the sophomore tight end out of Cleveland High, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tuioti with 2:32 left in the third quarter. And with that Tuioti was done for the night.

The other negative for the Lobos, aside from the defense lacking at times, was injuries to wide receiver Q’ Drennan (hip) and backup quarterback Coltin Gerhart (foot).

Lobos wide receiver Q’ Drennan acknowledges fans’ applause as he’s carted off the field after sustaining an injury at the end of a 40-yard pass reception. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Next up: Saturday at Wisconsin, 10 a.m., Big Ten Network, 770 AM/94.5 FM

Box score: New Mexico 62, Incarnate Word 30