There was a genuine, loud gasp and an “Ohhhh,” heard from an estimated 4,769 fans when University of New Mexico running back Bobby Cole leaped high and flipped over defenders after a big run on Saturday at University Stadium.
He jumped back up to his feet after the play. He was OK. The UNM football program looked just fine as well after a significant turnout on a warm and sunny afternoon for its Cherry & Silver Game, won 21-0 by the Silver, to end spring football practices. The fans were in masks, socially distanced and only on the home side of the stadium to follow COVID-19 guidelines.
Cole led a group of impressive running backs, including Chad Alexander and Aaron Dumas, who gave Lobo fans something to look forward to in the fall. Also, the UNM first-team defense stepped up from last week when the offense had its way to regain the advantage it has had during the spring.
“It almost feels like I’m playing for a new program, you know? With a new fan base and everything,” Cole said of the fans at the game. “I really appreciate the Lobo fans that came out and supported this weekend because it’s really refreshing to see. I’ve been here for a long time and we haven’t always had that.”
Cole, a redshirt senior who led the Lobos in rushing last season, insisted on getting more carries even though UNM coach Danny Gonzales really wanted to save him for the fall. Cole’s “short” day of work, 104 yards on 11 carries, featured a 76-yard touchdown run.
Alexander, who has shown great improvement during the spring, ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run as part of his big day of 135 rushing yards on 10 carries. Dumas (73 yards on 13 carries), a highly regarded freshman and an early high school graduate from Americas High in El Paso, also had a few hard runs, including an 11-yard touchdown run.
“I think our running back room can be one of the best in our league,” Gonzales said. “It’s only going to be good if those guys up front do their job. (Center) Kyle Stapley (knee) will be back in the fall. We’re hunting up one more grad transfer to come in and give us some depth.”
Of course, UNM’s passing game has the potential to be special with the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Terry Wilson, who is coming from Kentucky, where he went 17-8 as the starter for a little more than two seasons. He said on Wednesday that he wants to arrive in Albuquerque in May.
Redshirt junior Trae Hall and freshman Bear Milacek played as the UNM quarterbacks on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Chavez, the walk-on out of Rio Rancho High who led the Lobos to their last two wins of the season, was out with an elbow injury, Gonzales said. Chavez will have an MRI on his right (throwing) arm next week.
Hall threw for 212 yards on 28-of-47 passing, and was hurt by a few of his receivers’ drops.
“We had some explosive plays, but we should have had even more explosive plays today,” Hall said. “I was kind of frustrated (about the receivers’ drops), but I was thinking about the next play and telling them to move on to the next play. … (The first-team defense) played their butts off. I was really proud of them. They did their job. They did their assignments, technique and just played hard.”
Linebacker Cody Moon, a redshirt freshman from Volcano Vista, led the Lobos with 10 tackles. Gonzales said earlier this spring that he is expecting “big things” from Moon for a linebacker corps that will be without senior Brandon Shook, the Lobos’ leading tackler who opted not to use the extra year of eligibility from the coronavirus-delayed and shortened 2020 season.
There were no injuries reported for the game.
After the game, the Lobos gathered in front of the fans to sing the school’s fight song.
“It’s a new beginning,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. “… We want to enhance the experience. We want to make everyone believe that this is all of us in this together. Like Danny said, we can’t get this done by ourselves. This is everybody together. This is a testament to it. … If this is an indication of the fall, it’s going to be an exciting fall.”