(Game book: New Mexico State 45, Hawaii 26)
LAS CRUCES — Four games into Jerry Kill’s initial season as New Mexico State head man, the Aggies had amassed just four touchdowns. Saturday night at Aggie Memorial Stadium, the nationally 131st-ranked (of 131 schools) NMSU offense did that one better … in the first half alone.
With true freshman quarterback Gavin Frakes taking every snap over those first 30 minutes, State ground out 268 yards, Jamoni Jones, Star Thomas and Frakes divvying up four rushing TDs among them as the home team rolled to a 45-26 victory in front of 12,892 vociferous fans.
NMSU led 35-10 at halftime on the way to its first win in 11 career tries vs. Hawaii — and the 1-4 Aggies’ first win in 2022.
Hawaii fell to an identical 1-4 record, seeing its win streak snapped at one.
“Controlled the ball; we’ve got pretty good running backs,” Kill said after his 159th career win. “I think the kids just came out and responded to a different style of practice. … For the most part, we played pretty physical.”
NMSU scored touchdowns on four of its five first-half possessions, including the first three. After Dedrick Parson’s 1-yard run handed the Rainbow Warriors quick 7-0 lead, Thomas (10 carries, 139 yards) was in the end zone after a 27-yard gut shot to knot the score six minutes into the game.
“We set the tone right there,” said Thomas, a Coffeyville Community College transfer. “We let ‘em know it was gonna be a long night.”
Next possession, Frakes (8-13-1, 81 yards passing, 7 for 82 rushing) capped an 8-play, 64 yard drive with a 20-yard jaunt off a faked jet sweep to grab the 14-7 lead.
“I feel like we were clicking on all cylinders in the first half,” Frakes said. “It makes it easy on me. I can just hand it off to (Thomas, Jones, etc) and they go to work.”
Another Thomas run, this one a 57-yarder, got the Aggies back into the red zone, Jones finishing the drive with a 3-yarder on the first snap of the second quarter for a 21-7 edge.
After a Matt Shipley 23-yard field goal cut the gap to 21-10, Jones (12-for-59 rushing, two TDs) capped a 68-yard drive with a 2-yard score off a direct snap to move the margin to 28-10.
A Thomas swing pass from Frakes originally went as an 8-yard touchdown before replay placed the ball inside the one. Two plays later, tight end Thomaz Whitford caught a 2-yard Frakes flip with 16 seconds left as NMSU went to the break up an eye-popping 25 points.
“I felt the whole team was very looking forward to this, our first win,” said outside linebacker Chris Ojoh, after the first month featured road games at the Big Ten’s Minnesota and Wisconsin. “Now, it’s not only to win one, but keep doing it week in and week out.”
The Aggies defensive captain Ojoh (game-high 14 tackles) equaled the offense’s impressive first half, sporting a drive-ending sack and a touchdown-saving trip-up of Warriors QB Brayden Schager among his nine tackles prior to the break.
“Ojoh’s got one thing that’s very important that we’ll continue to recruit and that’s speed,” Kill said. “I’m glad that I was able to talk him out of going to some other school, going to Portland, (because) that’s where he was headed. That might have been my best recruiting job besides about two or three other kids who are here.”
A 37-yard Laurence Dixon punt return early in the second half set up the Aggie ground attack yet again, Ahmonte Watkins punching in a 1-yard run at the 7:02 mark of the third to cap the 8-play, 40-yard all-rushing drive, officially dashing any Hawaii illusions of comeback.
“I’m happy for the kids,” Kill said. “These kids have worked their tail ends off, they’ve busted their butts. They did what I’ve asked ‘em to do. It’s a good feeling.”
NMSU had been outscored 76-2 in second quarters this season prior to Saturday. The Aggies turned those tables as well, winning that quarter by a 21-3 margin.
The Aggies, in the midst of a four-game homestand, next host 1-2 Florida International, 73-0 losers Saturday to Western Kentucky, on Oct. 1.
Hawaii gets a week off before traveling to San Diego State.