LARAMIE, Wyo. — University of New Mexico coach Bob Davie said inserting Tevaka Tuioti at quarterback was always part of the plan against Wyoming on Saturday. It was just a matter of when, he said.
It might have been too late. Tuioti provided a spark with a late touchdown, but the Cowboys came away with a 23-10 Mountain West Conference win in front of announced crowd of 22,884 at War Memorial Stadium.
The Lobos (2-5, 0-3 in MWC) suffered their fourth straight loss, while Wyoming (5-2, 2-1) ran for 259 yards with running back Xazavian Valladay (127 yards, 1 TD, 33 carries) and quarterback Sean Chambers (117 yards, 1 TD, 18 carries) leading the way.
Tuioti, who had to answer questions about declining to warm up to enter the game last week, entered this contest with the Lobos trailing 20-3 with 9:40 left. He threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Molina, who made a sensational grab in the end zone with a defender draped all over him.
Did that play make Davie wish he had put Tuioti in sooner?
“No,” Davie said. “We went back and forth. We thought about it at halftime. We wanted to give Sheriron (Jones) a series or two in the second half because we were going to throw it more in the second half. They were giving us some one-on-ones. We threw it. We did some good things.
“But Sheriron missed some throws as well.”
Jones threw for 153 yards on 9-of-17 passing with no interceptions. He did not provide as much of a running threat as he usually does. He was sacked twice.
Tuioti threw for 60 yards and one touchdown, connecting on 5 of his 10 passes, and ran for 30 yards.
“Tevaka came in and gave us a spark,” Davie said. “But sometimes, as we said before, it’s easy to give you a spark when you’re down. But there’s no question that his ability to take off and run, also the ability to throw the ball on the run, you definitely feel his presence.”
Davie believed his team matched up well against the Cowboys because they didn’t throw the ball as much as other teams have on the Lobos.
“We moved the ball enough to score more points, but we didn’t score them,” Davie said. “So I think we made some improvement today. Played hard. But just didn’t play well enough to win.”
Davie spoke to his team after the game longer than he usually does after a game. He told the players they should not think they are a bad team because of the losses. He encouraged them to keep fighting.
The Lobos showed great fight in the first half when they trailed 7-0.
Last week, UNM running back Bryson Carroll fumbled the ball on his own, dropping the ball to the turf before scoring on what would have been a 57-yard touchdown, and thus unflatteringly ending up on ESPN Sportscenter’s Not Top 10. This time, he coughed it up because of the Cowboys’ defense.
Free safety Rome Weber forced the fumble and strong safety Esaias Gandy recovered on New Mexico’s 37. That set up Wyoming’s first touchdown of the game.
Chambers went deep to Valladay for 25 yards and three plays later Chambers walked in from a yard out to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.
With 11:41 left in the third quarter, and still trailing 7-0, Davie went for it on a 4th-and-3 from Wyoming’s 29-yard line. The Cowboys stuffed Ahmari Davis for a 1-yard loss to get the ball back.
Wyoming countered with a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive, featuring a 40-yard TD run by Chambers, to go up 13-0.
The Lobos finally got on the scoreboard when Andrew Shelley connected on a 25-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter. Jones hit wide receiver Jordan Kress for 28 yards to help UNM move down the field. Kress finished with 94 yards on four catches.
The Lobos defense entered ranked 130th, dead last, in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed (391.7) per game.
Chambers threw for 86 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-15 passing. UNM linebacker Alex “Mo” Vainikolo recorded nine tackles, one sack and 1½ tackles for losses, and linebacker Jacobi Hearn had eight tackles, two sacks and two tackles for losses.
“Today was definitely a step forward towards the defense we want to be,” Vainikolo said. “It was a big test for us knowing that it was going to be a heavily run game. I feel like we came in physically ready … sometimes football doesn’t go your way.”