LAS CRUCES – Hawaii football might have brought storm clouds and a second-half drizzle from the islands to the Land of Enchantment, but the one thing it absolutely refused to bring was any Rainbows.
A blitzing Khoury Bethley’s strip-sack and fumble recovery of New Mexico State’s Jonah Johnson led to Chevan Cordeiro’s 1-yard scoring run, breaking open a close game in the third quarter as the Rainbow Warriors ran away to a 41-21 victory Saturday night in front of 13,932 at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
The loss was NMSU’s (1-4) ninth in as many career tries versus Hawaii (2-3). The Aggies return the favor of a trip with an Oct 23 visit to Aloha Stadium in a rare home-and-home booking. The former WAC foes, which hadn’t met since 2011, have scheduled dates over each of the next four seasons.
“What I just told the team just now, nobody can question their heart, their work ethic, how hard they’re playing,” ninth-year Aggies head coach Doug Martin said. “They’re a great group of players to work with. We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot too much.”
With one fatal shot tipping the balance.
“I think it was a big momentum shifter, because after halftime, I think (NMSU) had the momentum,” the defensive back Bethley said of the play that helped turn a 17-13 nail-biter into a runaway. “Being able to make that play and getting the ball back to Chevan……”
Johnson went 17-of-28 for 169 yards and a score, also rushing for 41 more in his first action since a Week 2 wrist injury at San Diego State.
For the second straight week, the Aggies scored on their first offensive possession. A 10-play opening drive, highlighted by a Johnson sneak to convert third-and-1 followed by an Andre Bodison 17-yard drag route ended in Ethan Albertson’s 33-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
That early edge lasted all of 14 seconds, as Cordeiro (16-of-25, 277, one interception) found wideout Nick Mardner down the left sideline for a 74-yard score, taking a 7-3 advantage.
Johnson attempted to hit O’Maury Samuels in the right flat when Warriors blitzing spur backer Quentin Frazier jumped up and blocked the attempt. Officials allowed the play to continue, Cameron Lockridge scooping up the rolling ball for a 5-yard fumble-return touchdown.
The unfortunate call and subsequent 17-3 deficit seemed to slap the Aggies to life. Jared Wyatt grabbed a Johnson slant pass on the dead run for a 52-yard pickup, with a half-the-distance personal foul horse collar tackle handing NMSU a first-and-goal from the Hawaii 7. Three plays later, Johnson found Robert Downs III on a hitch left, Downs spinning through a tackle at the one to pull within 17-10.
Three snaps later, Cyrus Dumas, who grabbed an interception last week in his first game as an Aggie, added a fumble recovery at the Hawaii 38 yard line to set up Albertson’s chip shot 20-yard field goal to creep even closer at 17-13.
“As a defense, we’re playing good, we just gotta stop those big plays,” Dumas said.
Dumas added his second interception of the year on the ensuing drive at his own 29. NMSU drove the field, poised to put more points on the board. But Albertson’s 29-yard field goal attempt with just 44 seconds left in the half sailed wide right.