LAS CRUCES — At long last a winning streak.
The New Mexico State University football team opened its 2014 season in victorious style Thursday night, dominating the second half of a 28-10 victory over Cal Poly at Aggie Memorial Stadium before an announced crowd of 13,772.
Freshman running back Larry Rose III rushed 30 times for 149 yards and a touchdown and pulled in a TD pass to help the Aggies pick up a second straight triumph. They also won last season’s finale against Idaho.
If it seems a stretch to call the two wins a streak, consider that NMSU last won two straight games in October 2011 when it defeated New Mexico and Idaho. The span between such streaks was not lost on Aggies coach Doug Martin.
“We haven’t had many of those around here. We’ll take it,” Martin said.
Happy though he was, Martin did not spend too much time gushing about Thursday’s win over the Football Championship Subdivision Mustangs. He pointed out a handful of mistakes that kept the Aggies from putting the game out of reach sooner.
But there were also plenty of positives, starting with the performance of NMSU’s defense. After allowing 185 rushing yards in the first half, the Aggies allowed just 80 total yards and four first downs after halftime.
New Mexico State outscored the Mustangs 14-0 in the second half.
Linebackers Derek Ibekwe and Rodney Butler led the way, combining for 25 total tackles.
“We all just came out and decided to do something new,” Butler said of NMSU’s second-half adjustments. “Get to the ball faster!”
Martin noted a few tactical adjustments NMSU made to slow Cal Poly’s triple-option attack in the second half. The Aggies began assigning an outside linebacker to Mustang quarterback Chris Brown on outside pitch plays, for example.
But more significant was the Aggies’ attack speed in the second half. Seeing little from the Mustangs’ passing game, NMSU began flying to the line of scrimmage and largely shut down the Mustangs.
It was a welcome sight for Martin, especially considering how well Cal Poly ran the ball — and how poorly NMSU defended the rush — last season.
“Cal Poly led the FCS nationally in rushing last year,” Martin said. “For us to hold them to one touchdown and shut them out in the second half, that’s pretty special.”
The Aggies’ offense also had its moments, piecing together four long scoring drives of 10 plays or more. Junior quarterback Tyler Rogers was an efficient 18 of 27 for 118 yards and two touchdowns, despite several drops by his receivers.
“After the first play the nerves were pretty much gone,” Rogers said. “Getting out on the field and getting a win, best feeling in the world.”
Rogers and the NMSU offense could hardly have scripted a better start. The junior college transfer went 5-for-5 for 59 yards on the opening drive as the Aggies marched 75 yards.
Teldrick Morgan took a short pass from Rogers, broke a tackle and raced into the end zone to complete a 30-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
Cal Poly answered with an 11-play drive, tying the score on Brandon Howe’s 3-yard run. The Mustangs ran outside with ease on the drive, but a personal foul penalty that negated a third-down sack by the Aggies kept the defense from forcing a punt.
NMSU’s defense began to find its footing on Aggie Memorial Stadium’s brand-new synthetic turf in the second quarter. New Mexico State’s Winston Rose picked off a Brown pass to stop a Cal Poly drive and initiate an Aggies scoring drive.
Rose carried six times for 28 yards on the possession, and Rogers hit Gregory Hogan with a key 25-yard pass to convert a third down. Xavier Hall ultimately punched in a 2-yard TD run to give NMSU a 14-7 lead.
“That’s about the most fun I’ve had for a while,” Rose said. “I give all the credit to the O-line for wearing the defense down, but this game was my introduction. It’s only the beginning.”
NEW MEXICO STATE 28, CAL POLY 10
Cal Poly 7 3 0 10—10
New Mexico St. 7 7 7 7—28
First Quarter NMSU—Morgan 30 pass from Rogers (M.Johnson kick), 9:46. CP—Howe 3 run (Pyle kick), 4:48. Second Quarter NMSU—Hall 1 run (M.Johnson kick), 8:07. CP—FG Pyle 24, :20. Third Quarter NMSU—Rose III 6 pass from Rogers (M.Johnson kick), 7:05. Fourth Quarter NMSU—Rose III 6 run (Rogers kick), 8:51. A—13,772.
First downs 14 21
Rushes-yards 49-259 47-197
Passing 6 118
Comp-Att-Int 2-7-1 18-27-1
Return Yards 8 26
Punts-Avg. 7-36.1 5-41.4
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 4-21 3-50
Time of Possession 29:15 30:45
RUSHING—Cal Poly, Garcia 11-84, Nicholls 8-67, Brown 17-66, Howe 8-24, Graves 3-12, Mitchell 2-6. New Mexico St., Rose III 30-149, Betancourt 7-42, Hall 6-22, Team 1-(minus 1), Rogers 3-(minus 15).
PASSING—Cal Poly, Brown 1-3-1-2, Graves 1-3-0-4, Nicholls 0-1-0-0. New Mexico St., Rogers 18-27-1-118.
RECEIVING—Cal Poly, Nicholls 1-4, Jackson Jr. 1-2. New Mexico St., Morgan 6-51, J.Brown 4-44, Rose III 4-(minus 27), Matthews 2-19, Hogan 1-25, Bowen 1-6.