LAS CRUCES – The New Mexico State Aggies have shown a propensity for self-inflicted wounds throughout the first half of this football season.
They took it to a painful new level in Saturday’s 20-13 loss to visiting Liberty.
Three turnovers – two of them coughed up inside the Flames’ 10-yard line – combined with 14 penalties for 153 yards proved too much for the Aggies to overcome. Quarterback Josh Adkins’ lost fumble on the Liberty 6 late in the fourth quarter was the final nail in NMSU’s sixth loss in as many games this season.
“We’re still just killing ourselves,” Aggies coach Doug Martin said. “Turnovers, gosh! We had three turnovers tonight and they cost us at least two touchdowns. It’s frustrating, I’ll tell you that.”
New Mexico State squandered a solid performance by its defense, which held Liberty’s prolific quarterback-wide receiver combo of Stephen Calvert and Antonio Gandy-Golden in check. The Flames passed for just 173 yards, and Gandy-Golden had four catches for 40 yards.
“Our defense has really woken up the last two weeks,” linebacker Devin Richardson said. “It just seems like there’s always going to be one or two plays that really decide things every game, and those haven’t gone our way.”
New Mexico State outgained Liberty 396-334 but lost the turnover battle 3-0. NMSU has committed 17 turnovers in six games, and giveaways were not the Aggies’ only mistakes Saturday night. Among the more egregious examples:
• NMSU drove inside the Liberty 5 on its first possession but reserve running back Eli Anderson failed to catch a sure touchdown pass. He instead batted the ball up where it was intercepted by Javon Scruggs, who returned it 72 yards to set up a Flames field goal.
• Penalties later negated a 72-yard NMSU punt return by OJ Clark and a long Jason Huntley run into potential scoring position.
• The Aggies jumped offside on a third-and-3 on Liberty’s final drive of the first half, extending a possession which produced a touchdown and a 10-0 score.
Turns out the mistake parade was just getting rolling.
In the third quarter, NMSU ran an almost-perfect trick play with wideout Tony Nicholson passing to wide-open Tevis Abraham in the end zone. Problem was, the toe of Abraham’s right foot was out of bounds and the Aggies ended up settling for a Dylan Brown field goal.
Nicholson felt his pass should have been better: “That made me mad. I should have made that play, but stuff happens.”
Remarkably, all the foul-ups and missed opportunities did not immediately doom NMSU. In the fourth quarter, Adkins hit Izaiah Lottie with a 41-yard strike to the Liberty 12, and Huntley reversed his field and rushed for a touchdown on the next play.
Suddenly it was 13-13 with 7:46 left, and it seemed NMSU might pull out a dramatic win in front of an announced homecoming crowd of 23,140.
It was not to be. A missed tackle on Liberty’s next possession turned a 2-yard dump pass to running back Joshua Mack into a 54-yard gallop inside the NMSU 10. Mack scored on the next play to give Liberty the lead back at 20-13.
New Mexico State responded with a long drive of its own, driving to the Liberty 5 with more than 3 minutes remaining. But almost predictably, Adkins fumbled on a second-down run, Liberty recovered and held onto the ball until the fourth quarter expired.