LAS CRUCES — Emergency starting quarterback Dino Maldonado found his club’s first-ever matchup with South Carolina State quite to his liking.
The New Mexico State third-stringer, pressed into duty after starter Jonah Johnson went down with a wrist injury in last week’s New Mexico loss, skippered touchdown drives on each of his first five first-half possessions.
NMSU jumped out to a three-touchdown lead and it turned out they needed every one of those early points, hanging on late for a 43-35 victory Saturday night in front of an announced Aggie Memorial Stadium crowd of 11,283.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak, handing NMSU (1-2) its first victory at home since a 44-35 win over UTEP in November 2019. The loss kept the Mid-East Athletic Conference preseason favorite Bulldogs (0-3) winless.
Maldonado completed his first four passes for 58 yards, setting up Juwaun Price’s 15 yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
“We were trying to run a lot of play-actions and screens,” NMSU head coach Doug Martin said. “They weren’t plays where you really had to read. It’s just, you’re gonna throw it to this guy. … So it got (Maldonado) off to a good start.”
Said the 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore Maldonado, “I always pride myself on accuracy and throwing the ball on time. When you can do that in games where the receivers get the ball out of their breaks and get some yards after catch … That’s what we need.”
Maldonado finished 24-of-32 for 321 yards and three touchdown passes.
Los Lunas High graduate O’Maury Samuels’ zig-zagging, 3-yard TD run made it 15-0.
Price (13 carries, 63 yards, 2 TDs) ran for his second score on a 9-yard cutback and NMSU led 22-0 with 12:02 left in the second quarter.
A Shaquan Davis 30-yard catch on a hitch-and-go and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda’s 41-yarder into the right corner of the end zone capped each of the next two NMSU scoring possessions for a 36-13 halftime lead.
D.J. McCullough’s interception return on the second snap of the second half seemed to put the Bulldogs out for the night. Linebacker Eric Marsh checked in and caught a 1-yard flat route in the left corner of the end zone for a 43-13 Aggies advantage.
Syrus Dumas added an interception for an Aggie defense that forced three turnovers.
Three straight Bulldogs TDs, including Kendrell Flowers’ 17-yard catch with just over two minutes left in the game, cut the NMSU lead to eight at 43-35. But redshirt freshman Nick Giacolone jumped in front of a Corey Fields pass for an interception to seal the victory with 58 seconds remaining.
“It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Fields (30-47-3, 352, 4 TDs). “And we played it to the final whistle.”
As did the Aggie defense.
“We were thinking, we gotta just get this thing done,” said NMSU linebacker Michael Bowe. “We got a big lead going in there, we got a lot of momentum. We just gotta keep fighting.”
NMSU hosts Hawaii (1-2 coming into Saturday’s late home game vs. San Jose State) next Saturday for homecoming.
Hawaii at New Mexico State, 6 p.m., Flofootball (streaming), 99.5 FM (Las Cruces)
New Mexico St. 43, South Carolina State 35
SC State 0 13 7 15 — 35
New Mexico St. 15 21 7 0 — 43
NMSU—Price 14 run (Albertson kick), 10:36.
NMSU—Samuels 4 run (Whitford run), 3:43.
NMSU—Price 8 run (Albertson kick), 12:02.
SCST—Flowers 15 run (kick failed), 7:31.
NMSU—Wyatt 30 pass from Maldonado (Albertson kick), 4:47.
SCST—R.Bailey 37 pass from Fields (Roberts kick), 2:00.
NMSU—Garcia-Castaneda 35 pass from Maldonado (Albertson kick), 1:43.
NMSU—Marsh 1 pass from Maldonado (Albertson kick), 11:42.
SCST—Massey 6 pass from Fields (Roberts kick), 4:07.
SCST—Vereen 18 pass from Fields (Roberts kick), 10:49.
SCST—Flowers 20 pass from Fields (Washington pass from Fields), 1:35.
First downs 24 23
Total Net Yards 458 418
Rushes-yards 27-76 34-104
Passing 382 314
Punt Returns 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns 1-22 5-117
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 3-35
Comp-Att-Int 30-47-3 24-33-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-17 1-10
Punts 4-46.0 4-44.25
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 5-33 6-55
Time of Possession 31:56 27:13
RUSHING—SC State, Flowers 13-58, Anthony 4-23, Benson 3-1, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Fields 6-(minus 4). New Mexico St., Price 13-62, Samuels 13-26, Maldonado 5-22, A.Escobar 1-1, (Team) 2-(minus 7).
PASSING—SC State, Fields 30-47-3-382. New Mexico St., Maldonado 24-33-0-314.
RECEIVING—SC State, Vereen 9-119, Bailey 6-78, Flowers 5-48, Moody 2-41, White 2-31, Washington 2-27, Massey 2-13, Perry 1-27, Anthony 1-(minus 2). New Mexico St., Downs 5-51, Samuels 4-24, Garcia-Castaneda 3-72, Price 3-53, Wyatt 2-38, Whitford 2-30, Bodison 2-29, Harrity 2-16, Marsh 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—New Mexico St., Albertson 48.