The New Mexico Lobos might have gotten a little help dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but it was a signature win all the same.
The Lobos, buoyed by what coach Bob Davie called the best performance his defense has mounted during his 46-game tenure, scored a 14-13 upset of Utah State on Saturday at University Stadium.
“We finally put it together enough and executed enough that we had a chance to win,” Davie said. “… It was just good to see the execution of the defense give us a chance.”
The Lobos (5-4 on the season, 3-2 in Mountain West Conference play) are within one victory of being eligible for a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Their five wins also are the most for UNM since ’07, when the Lobos went 9-4 and beat Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.
Utah State (5-4, 4-2) is with almost no room for doubt the best team UNM has beaten since Davie arrived in 2012. Earlier, this season, Davie had talked about the need for “a signature win,” and Saturday’s win as a 20-point underdog should qualify.
That signature, though, constantly threatened to get redacted throughout a tense second half. The outcome was in doubt until Utah State’s Brock Warren missed a 41-yard field goal with 59 seconds left.
Along the way, the Lobos also benefited from a Utah State fumble that set up what proved to be the winning touchdown and another fumble that short-circuited a fourth-quarter USU drive at the New Mexico 19-yard line.
The UNM victory had echoes of the Lobos’ win over Hawaii on Oct. 17, when a missed 22-yard Rainbow Warriors field goal enabled the Lobos to drive for a game-winning touchdown.
“The football gods smiled on us again,” Davie said. “… (But) I think we deserve this, don’t you? I think we deserve to have some good fortune.”
With the offense struggling most of the afternoon, good fortune and good defense pulled the Lobos through.
Utah State — a team that had scored more than 50 points in three of its past four games — managed just 294 yards against UNM. The Aggies were 4-of-15 on third downs, 0-of-2 on fourth downs. The Lobos had a goal-line stand on USU’s first series of the game.
Utah State running back Devante Mays, who had rushed 176 yards the previous week in a blowout of Wyoming, had 29 net yards on 17 carries.
“They didn’t have any long runs,” Davie said, “which I thought was the difference in the game.”
It was a long pass that gave New Mexico a lead it would never relinquish.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Lobos forced a Utah State punt and took possession with 10:57 left in the second period. On a second-and-11 play from the UNM 14-yard line, quarterback Lamar Jordan — flushed out of the pocket — approached the line of scrimmage on an apparent scramble.
But Jordan, his head up, spotted wide receiver Delane Hart-Johnson alone behind the Utah State secondary. Hart-Johnson caught the ball at around his own 45 and took it the rest of the way for an 86-yard touchdown.
“That’s part of my game play,” Jordan said. “Improvising, kind of just stringing plays out and trying to make the big play.”
Utah State drove for a 25-yard Warren field goal on its next series, making it 7-3 at halftime. But in the third quarter, the Lobos added to their lead when senior David Anaya forced a fumble on a Utah State punt return. Fellow senior Reece White recovered on the Aggies 3-yard line, and running back Richard McQuarley scored from there.
Utah State would add a touchdown on a 24-yard Kent Myers-to-Andrew Rodriguez pass and a 41-yard Warren field goal set up by an interception return of an Austin Apodaca pass.
But the Aggies could never seize the lead, and when Warren’s field-goal attempt sailed wide right, the victory was New Mexico’s.
“This an awesome feeling and a great win,” junior linebacker Dakota Cox said. “… I’m excited moving forward.”
Next up for the Lobos: an 8:15 p.m. game next Saturday at Boise State to air on ESPNU.