For Richard McQuarley, the first few weeks of the season were humbling.
On 40 attempts through four games, the senior rushed for only 122 yards and no touchdowns. Not to mention that he fumbled three times in the opening quarter of three consecutive games, a trend that started against New Mexico State.
But that all changed on Saturday night, when McQuarley rushed for 179 yards and five touchdowns on only 11 carries, setting career highs for both yards and touchdowns for a single game. The five rushing touchdowns also tied a school record, set by Reginal Johnson against Tulsa in 1996.
It was McQuarley’s second career game in which the running back surpassed 100 rushing yards. All it took was a little more focus on ball control.
“Obviously more ball protection,” McQuarley said. “Working with coach (Scott Baumgartner) we do a drill where the running backs line up beside us and we run through the running backs and they try and get the ball out. I feel like it was big for me.”
For the 5-foot-11 senior, his historic performance against Air Force was a direct result of learning from his past mistakes. McQuarley fumbled the ball three times prior to Saturday’s game — once each against Tulsa, New Mexico State and Boise State.
“I know that I fumbled early in the season, and that’s part of the game,” he said. “That’s something that happened — I feel like I needed that, because it started early and that humbled me as a player. I came in thinking it was going to be easy, and in life, nothing is given. I feel like the fumbles really helped me for my future.”
McQuarley’s first touchdown of the game came on a 3-yard run with 2:22 in the first quarter, which was his only score in the first half. However, he dominated the second half of play, when he added four more touchdowns to his stat line.
The senior running back’s first score of the second half — and second touchdown — came on a 6-yard run, which was set up by a pair of 10-yard runs from senior quarterback Lamar Jordan and junior running back Tyrone Owens.
After the Lobos forced another fumble late in the third quarter on a kickoff return, they recovered it on Air Force’s 17-yard line to set up another scoring drive, which saw McQuarley score his third touchdown of the game on a 5-yard run, ultimately putting the Lobos up 42-24 early in the fourth quarter.
But McQuarley’s big breakthrough came during his fourth touchdown. After Air Force scored a touchdown to trim the Lobos’ lead to 42-31, McQuarley answered back with a huge 63-yard touchdown run.
Air Force pulled within 11 points again after scoring another touchdown, but McQuarley was in a zone and gutted the Falcons for a 65-yard run, his fifth rushing touchdown of the game, to seal the Lobos’ win.
Of course, there’s more that goes into a big run like the two McQuarley had last night. He made sure to give credit to his offensive line for opening up the gaps that allowed him to get to the second level where he was able to showcase some of his speed.
“All it was tonight was being patient,” McQuarley said. “Lamar was making sure I got good handoffs and the offensive line did an outstanding job. They were just telling me how they were playing, and we had plans on the sideline (of) what we were going to do. What they showed on defense, our offensive line had an answer for it. All I had to do was stay patient, keep my head down and run between the tackles.”
Lobo head coach Bob Davie also praised the offensive line for creating space for the senior running back to break free, adding that McQuarley “can go” when in open space.
“(McQuarley) even said it (in the locker room), it was the offensive line,” Davie said. “Moving Teton Saltes to tackle and Chris Estrella to guard, we made some progress. There was some opportunities to get to the second level there. If (McQuarley) gets to the second level, he can go...I’m really happy for (McQuarley), because he’s been really grinding.”
McQuarley was the alpha and the omega on Saturday for the Lobos, both literally and figuratively. He didn’t just score the first and last touchdowns of the game — he, more than any other player, seized control of the game and imposed his will.
Cameron Goeldner is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer but also contributes content for baseball, basketball, football and track and field. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @goeldfinger.
Matthew Narvaiz is a senior sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers baseball and men’s and women’s basketball but also contributes content for football. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.