A win it desperately needed slipped away from New Mexico’s football team late in the fourth quarter as San Diego State rallied for a 31-23 victory at Dreamstyle Stadium Saturday night.
The Lobos (3-6, 1-4 Mountain West Conference), 10-point underdogs, lost their fourth straight game.
They went ahead 23-14 with just a little over 10 minutes remaining, but the Aztecs (7-2, 4-1), guided by former UNM coach and quarterback Rocky Long, responded in a big way to grab the victory in front of an announce crowd of 14,606 that looked maybe a little over half that size.
Long continued his dominance in the Lobos-Aztecs series, winning his 15th straight game, eight in a row as the UNM coach, and seven consecutive now as either the Aztecs defensive coordinator or head coach.
SDSU outgained the Lobos 401-142, but only took control by taking advantage of UNM mistakes late in the game, including an interception thrown by quarterback Coltin Gerhart, who had been playing a gritty game, if not great, before that. Gerhart, in his first start, was 9-of-20 passing for only 41 yards, but two touchdowns.
Tailback Juwan Washington bolstered the Aztecs with his return after missing six games with a broken clavicle. His 50-yard touchdown run completed the comeback in a 95-yard rushing effort.
The Aztecs took their first lead of the game with 8:09 left in the third quarter. Washington showed off his speed during a 34-yard touchdown run.
SDSU was aided by Lobo Tyson Dyer’s 30-yard punt that set up the Aztecs at UNM’s 43.
But the Lobos regained the lead, with help from their defense. D’Angelo Ross knocked the ball loose from SDSU freshman running back Jordan Byrd (Manzano High alumnus) and Rhashaun Epting recovered the fumble at Aztecs’ 13. Byrd rushed four times for 10 yards.
Gerhart later hit Anselem Umeh in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. Umeh, the team’s third leading receiver, missed last week’s game to attend his older sister wedding.
Gerhart started his first game of the season. He directed a conservative offense, to put it mildly. But Gerhart still threw two touchdown passes from 12 yards out and another from 4 yards away.
Gerhart threw the ball just eight times in the first half, for four completions and minus-8 yards.
Gerhart took over junior quarterback Sheriron Jones, who had started the six previous games. Jones entered the season as the Lobos’ No. 3 QB, but injuries moved him to the top of the depth chart.
Tevaka Tuioti went down with a broken clavicle against Liberty Sept. 29 and his back-up Gerhart suffered a sprained foot in the season opener.
The Lobos got off to a strong start, scoring on a defensive touchdown to get ahead 7-0 less than five minutes into the game.
SDSU quarterback Ryan Agnew tried to extend a play and drifted toward UNM’s sideline. But he ended up holding on to the ball too long, as UNM LB Alex “Mo” Vainikolo caused a fumble that bounced perfectly into the arms of defensive lineman Adebayo Soremekun, and the big guy, all 6-foot-2, 298 pounds of him, rumbled down the sideline 44 yards for a touchdown.
The Aztecs came right back with a strong 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with tailback Chase Jasmin running in for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 7-7. SDSU converted on a 4th-and-1 and a 3rd-and-9. Jasmin’s touchdown run came on a third down, too.
From there, the teams traded punts until the Lobo defense again stepped up with a big play.
Soremekun recovered another fumble; this time he just fell on the ball after defensive end Cody Baker knocked it loose from SDSU tailback Juwan Washington at his own 35-yard line.
Three plays later, redshirt freshman placekicker Andrew Shelley drilled a 41-yard field goal.
It was an eventful week for the Lobos, who had to deal with the suspension Tuesday of senior linebacker Evahelotu Tohi, the team’s leading tackler.
Tohi was involved in an altercation with teammate David Brown, who was left in the hospital after being punched at least twice Saturday night after UNM’s 61-19 loss to Utah State, according to a police report.
In addition, Davie had to answer questions about his future with the team.
“Now’s not the time really for that conversation,” he said Tuesday.
The Lobos also played Saturday without playmaking free safety Marcus Hayes, who suffered concussion symptoms in the first quarter of UNM’s loss at Utah State.
NEXT SATURDAY: New Mexico at Air Force
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