Lightning brought a lengthy delay and eliminated Homecoming festivities, but Lobo football welcomed home its vaunted rushing attack Saturday evening.
New Mexico (3-2, 1-1 MW) rushed for 363 yards against Air Force, its highest output on the ground so far this season. The Lobos picked up huge chunks of yards running and passing, averaging well over 10 yards per play.
Officials called for a stoppage after the first quarter due to lightning in the area of Dreamstyle Stadium, which led to a 61-minute delay before play resumed. To get things back on track, halftime lasted just five minutes.
New Mexico head coach Bob Davie said it felt like halftime after the first quarter and acknowledged that Air Force did a good job making adjustments following the lightning delay. But Davie said he was also proud of his team’s ability to stay the course with no real halftime to implement changes to the game plan.
The Lobos struck first after converting a long third and 18 from their own 22-yard line after quarterback Lamar Jordan connected with Romell Jordan to move the chains. Running back Richard McQuarley capped a 13-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run — something that became somewhat of a theme in the game — putting UNM up 7-0.
Air Force eventually answered with a touchdown of its own after play resumed in the second quarter, but New Mexico reclaimed the lead with a 71-yard touchdown pass to Jay Griffin IV, who covered most of the ground after the catch.
The Falcons wrestled the lead away from the Lobos by accounting for the next two scores before halftime. First, they tied the game at 14 after a short Arion Worthman touchdown run. Then Air Force decided to go for it on fourth and 2 and was rewarded for the aggressiveness, taking a 21-14 advantage into the short break.
During halftime, a handful of Lobo football players were seen kneeling during the national anthem. Davie said there was an agreement between the coaches and referees that the anthem would not be played and wished he would’ve had a chance to talk to his team before hand, adding that he didn’t think his players knew.
At least two of the players immediately stood up after the anthem concluded.
Apparently, the teams are typically not on the field when the anthem, which normally takes place prior to the game, is played. Davie said he’d like to talk about what the team’s stance would be, so it would be unified.
New Mexico had a huge third quarter, capitalizing on pair of Air Force turnovers that seemed to shift momentum. Jordan found Delane Hart-Johnson on a 49-yard touchdown strike to even things up at 21-21.
Air Force lost its first fumble of the season and the Lobos looked to take advantage of the opportunity, setting up shop at the Air Force 21. However, Lamar Jordan appeared to fumble the ball two plays later into the end zone and turn it back over.
But a review showed the quarterback was down and UNM retained possession and made the most of a second chance. McQuarley found pay dirt again and scored to put the Lobos up 28-21.
The Falcons added a field goal after the Lobos were flagged for a personal foul following a fourth down stop, which extended the drive. New Mexico came roaring back with another quick scoring drive.
Lamar Jordan reeled off a big run, followed by Romell Jordan executing a spin move to get outside for a big run and later finding the end zone to make the score 35-24.
Air Force’s luck went from bad to worse when the Falcons fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the turnover proved costly again as another McQuarley touchdown made the score 42-24 in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
The two fumbles were the first lost fumbles for the Falcons this season. They played a huge role in the game, especially since New Mexico was able to play a turnover-free game for the first time in 2017.
The Falcons tried to mount a comeback, pulling back within 11 points after Worthman found Ronald Cleveland on a 21-yard touchdown pass, but McQuarley answered with a 63-yard burst up the gut for his fourth rushing touchdown about halfway through the final period.
Air Force engineered a methodical drive to cut the lead to 49-38, but the clock started to become an issue for the Falcons. McQuarley seemed to be aware as he essentially slammed the door for good with just under four minutes remaining.
He exploded through the hole again on the first play of the next drive, galloping 65 yards for his fifth rushing touchdown, tying a single-game school record in the process.
The running back scored the game’s first and last touchdown, making the score 56-38, on his way to a 179-yard rushing performance on just 11 carries.
Despite giving up 38 points, New Mexico’s defense also played well — getting pretty consistent pressure on the quarterback for much of the night. UNM sacked Worthman four times and recorded 11 tackles for loss.
The victory improved New Mexico’s record to 3-2 on the season as the team prepares for the bye week. The next game for the Lobos will be a road test at Fresno State on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.
Alanie Rael is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers men’s and women’s skiing but also contributes content for football. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AllyRael.