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LAS CRUCES — With the New Mexico defense wearing down and cramping up, with a growing realization on the New Mexico State sideline that, ‘hey, we can win this,’ it became clear the Lobos’ offense couldn’t afford to make a late-game mistake.
The Lobos made not one, but two — an interception and a dropped pass —and the Aggies took full advantage.
New Mexico State beat the Lobos 32-31 Saturday night at Aggie Memorial Stadium, snapping a four-game losing streak in the series.
It was NMSU coach Doug Martin’s first victory over New Mexico, UNM coach Bob Davie’s first loss to the Aggies.
Afterward, Davie gave Martin and the 1-1 Aggies their due.
“They won the football game,” Davie said. “They made enough plays. Their quarterback (Tyler Rogers) hung in there. He was resilient.”
For most of the game, UNM seemed in control. But in a contest the Lobos (1-1) led for more than 48 minutes, Davie said, “We couldn’t put them away. … There were a couple of things that should not happen.”
Here’s what did happen.
Just 56 seconds into the fourth quarter, senior running back Teriyon Gipson scored on a 1-yard run — set up by his own 57-yard kickoff return and an NMSU personal foul penalty — that gave the Lobos a 31-22 lead.
But, as they did throughout, the Aggies came right back. A 57-yard drive culminated in a 30-yard Parker Davidson field goal.
On the ensuing series, after two running plays produced 5 yards, UNM quarterback Austin Apodaca’s third-down pass was picked off by linebacker Terrill Hanks.
“I just made a bad throw,” said Apodaca, who was 12-of-23 passing for 115 yards and rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown. “… It was frustrating, but you’ve got to move on.”
After the interception, the Aggies drove 27 yards in eight plays to get the go-ahead score and take the lead for the first, last and only time.
On the ensuing possession, Apodaca found tight end Michael Walsh behind the NMSU secondary inside the Aggies’ 30-yard line. But Walsh couldn’t hold on to the near-perfect pass.
The Lobos got one more first down, but a sack and three incompletions gave the ball back to NMSU with 1:28 left. The Aggies ran out the clock from there.
New Mexico State finished with 307 total yards, 29 fewer than UNM. But 91 of NMSU’s yards and seven of their 22 first downs came in the fourth quarter.
Several UNM defenders missed plays with cramps, and star linebacker Dakota Cox missed most of the second half after taking a blow to the head.
“We had enough guys,” Davie said. “That wasn’t the difference in the game at all.”
The Lobos led 17-15 at halftime, but the margin could have been bigger if not for a busted coverage that allowed Rogers to complete a 49-yard pass to a wide-open Royce Caldwell in the final 30 seconds — setting up a Rogers-to-Jaleel Scott 5-yard TD pass.
“It wasn’t really a miscommunication,” Lobo safety Daniel Henry said. “We just ended up in a coverage that was not ideal for that type of play.”
Early in the second half, the Lobos gave themselves some breathing room after a bad Aggie punt snap and a short kick set them up at the NMSU 42. Richard McQuarley got the score from 5 yards out.
The Aggies answered late in the third quarter with a 1-yard run by Xavier Hall at the end of a 63-yard drive.
Near the end of the first half, Lobo Jason Sanders hit a 41-yard field goal. But his kickoff was short, allowing NMSU’s Tyrian Taylor to return the ball to the Aggies 31. From there, the botched UNM pass coverage allowed Caldwell to get behind the secondary for a 49-yard completion from Rogers.
A pass interference call against Lobo cornerback Nias Martin put the ball at the UNM 5. Rogers then hit Scott for a TD.
To cap a rather bizarre final sequence of the half, Davidson —who had connected on field goals of 45, 41 and 37 yards —missed the PAT attempt.
The Lobos never trailed in the first half, scoring on drives of 75 and 80 yards on their first two possessions. The Aggies countered with Davidson field goals at the end of 48- and 52-yard drives. Then, after NMSU linebacker Dalton Herrington recovered a McQuarley fumble at the UNM 19, Davidson hit his 37-harder to bring the Aggies to within five points.