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Lobo football: Anaya makes special plays

David Anaya was a state champion wrestler as a Roswell Goddard senior in 2012.

Saturday, the senior running back went to the mat for the New Mexico Lobos. Without Anaya’s contributions on special teams, the Lobos’ stunning, 14-13 upset of Utah State would not have happened.

“A guy that jumps out at me is David Anaya,” UNM coach Bob Davie said after the game. “He’s an amazing kid.”

The Lobos (5-4 overall, 3-2 in Mountain West play) were nursing a 7-3 lead when, early in the third quarter, they punted from their own 38-yard line. Utah State returner Andrew Rodriguez fielded Zack Rogers’ punt at his own 10-yard line and headed up field — only to have Anaya hit him and simultaneously rip the ball from his grasp.

Fellow Lobos senior Reece White fell on the bouncing ball at the Aggies 3-yard line, and running back Richard McQuarley scored on the next play.

“My first thought was to make the tackle, but I really wanted the ball,” Anaya said. “I really wanted to make a play for this team.”

Later, he made another one.

Early in the fourth quarter, a 25-yard Brock Warren field goal cut UNM’s lead to 14-13. On the ensuing kickoff, Lobos returner Carlos Wiggins fumbled. In pursuit of the football, Utah State white jerseys were everywhere. Initially, at least one official signaled an Aggies recovery at the New Mexico 25-yard line.

Yet, when the officials reached the bottom of the pile, there was Anaya with the ball.

“I was on the other side of the field, and I saw Carlos making a move trying to make a guy miss,” Anaya said. “Sometimes when you make a move you kind of forget about the ball.

“When I saw the ball squirt out, I just took off.”

Anaya had no logical reason to think he could recover the ball, surrounded as it was by those white jerseys. Yet, he dived into the scrum anyway.

“We were just all kind of grabbing, and the ball ended up squirting into my stomach,” he said. “I just tried to hang onto it the best I could. And I did.”

IN THE NIK OF TIME: Since the moment he arrived in Albuquerque in the summer of 2013, Nik D’Avanzo has been a good and productive player.

His coaches have always thought him capable of far more than good and productive.

Saturday, they got the best Nik D’Avanzo they have seen. The junior defensive end led an outstanding defensive effort with a team-high nine tackles. He had two tackles for loss, totaling 9 yards, and twice stopped Utah State running back Devante Mays short of the first-down marker on third down.

Davie said that during the past two weeks — the Lobos had an open date on Oct. 31 — he and his staff challenged all their defensive players to play with more urgency, more consistency and with better technique.

D’Avanzo, he said, was a priority project.

“We challenged Nik,” he said. “It was time for Nik to become a man and start executing down after down after down after down.

“I think that’s kind of like our (entire) defense. … That was kind of the message of this past week, and Nik was right in the middle of that group.”

It’s a rare occurrence in UNM’s defense, and in most defenses, for a defensive lineman to lead a team in tackles. Junior linebacker Dakota Cox, the Lobos’ leading tackler on the season and a close friend of D’Avanzo’s, believes there’s more where that came from.

“He’s a great player, he has great athleticism, and he proved it tonight,” Cox said. “… He took the bye week as a chance to get better and a chance to improve on everything he does, so I’m very proud of him.”

CARSON SUSPENDED: UNM inside linebacker Kimmie Carson has been suspended for a half-game by the Mountain West for a late hit to the head and neck area on Utah State quarterback Kent Myers. Carson, a starter, won’t play in the first half Saturday at Boise State.

Carson drew a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on the play, which occurred in the second quarter. He was not ejected.

BOWL PROJECTIONS: At least one media outlet has the Lobos back in the bowl picture. The website SB Nation has UNM staying home to face Middle Tennessee in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 19.

Jerry Palm of cbssports.com does not agree. He doesn’t project UNM as a bowl participant and has San Diego State playing Rice in the New Mexico Bowl.

Several outlets projected the Lobos as a bowl team at the outset of the season, but most backed away after UNM’s loss to Tulsa in week two.

LOBO RECAP

Flashback: The New Mexico Lobos, combining superb defense, some terrific special teams play and some pretty darned good luck, score a stunning, 14-13 upset victory over Utah State Saturday in front of 19,886 chilly and windblown fans at University Stadium.

What went right: The Lobos’ defensive performance was nothing short of remarkable. Against a Utah State team that had exceeded 50 points in three of its previous four games, UNM allowed only two running plays of more than 10 yards. Utah State started three drives on New Mexico’s side of the 50-yard line but managed only two field goals on those possessions. Senior running back David Anaya set up a UNM touchdown with a forced fumble on a punt return and prevented potential disaster by recovering a Carlos Wiggins fumble on a kickoff return. Quarterback Lamar Jordan hit a big pass play, pulling up just short of the line of scrimmage and finding Delane Hart-Johnson behind the Aggies secondary for an 86-yard touchdown. Utah State kicker Brock Warren, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, pushed a likely game-winner wide right with 59 seconds left in the game.

What went wrong: The UNM offense, reasonably productive in the first half, went colder than that biting wind in the second: just 50 yards and three first downs in the final two quarters. The Lobos’ two-quarterback initiative failed to pay off; Jordan had the big pass play and rushed for 45 yards, but backup Austin Apodaca produced a negative 11 yards and had a pass intercepted.

Injury report: No serious injuries were observed.

Quoting Davie: “We’ll find a way to do enough on offense moving forward. But the key for us to get this program turned around has to be defense, and we finally took a step tonight to do it against a team that has the respect of most people in college football.”

Next up: The Lobos (5-4 overall, 3-2 Mountain West) travel to Boise State (7-2, 4-1) for an 8:15 p.m. game Saturday to be telecast on ESPNU. The Broncos, coming off a bye week, lost 52-26 to Utah State on Oct. 16. So that means the Lobos should be 27-point favorites in Boise. Right?

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