An inability to move the ball late in the game, coupled with the returns of two of San Diego State’s best offensive players, doomed the Lobos on Saturday night, as former UNM coach Rocky Long returned to town and lead his Aztecs to a 31-23 win over the Lobos.
The game couldn’t have started better for UNM if it had been scripted. On SDSU’s first possession of the game, Adebayo Soremekun scooped a fumble from Aztec’s backup quarterback Ryan Agnew, who started the game, and rumbled all the way down to the end zone for a touchdown to give the Lobos a 7-0 lead and electrify the sideline.
The Aztecs got the ball back and did not make the same mistake, as Chase Jasmin put scored from five yards out to tie the game at seven.
The Lobos offense finally got the ball with 3:35 left in the first quarter in what seemed like the fastest moving quarter of the season, and Coltin Gerhart’s first start of the season started with a whimper, as the Lobos went three-and-out for negative one yards.
The Aztecs starting quarterback, Christian Chapman, came into the game at the beginning of the second quarter, something that Bob Davie said gave SDSU more confidence in their offense.
“I thought that drive (after) we went up on Delane’s touchdown,” Davie said of when Chapman’s impact was felt. “He showed his experience there, showed the confidence they have in him...there was just a little different feel when he was in there.”
The results didn’t come immediately for SDSU however, as the Lobos would score next after Daquan Baker forced a fumble by Juwan Washington and gave UNM’s offense the ball back at the Aztecs 32-yard-line.
The offense would only move the ball forward 8-yards, but thanks to the starting field position, it setup placekicker Andrew Shelley for the 41-yard attempt that would give the Lobos a 10-7 lead that would stand through halftime.
SDSU would take its first lead of the game midway through the third quarter, thanks to a 34-yard touchdown run from Washington on a toss to the left side that left most of the Lobos defenders in the dust.
Five minutes later, D’Angelo Ross forced a fumble from Manzano High School graduate Jordan Byrd, that Rhashaun Epting picked up at the 13-yard line. On the second play on the field for the Lobos offense, Gerhart hit Anselem Umeh in the corner of the endzone to put the Lobos up 16-14 after the extra point was blocked.
After another SDSU three-and-out, the Lobos mounted an 11-play, 67-yard drive that began in the final moments of the third quarter and ended when Gerhart connected with Delane Hart-Johnson, who made a spectacular one-handed catch in the far corner of the endzone to put UNM up 23-14 with 10:07 to play.
Things turned south from the Lobos from there, as the ensuing drive for the Aztecs had four pass plays of over ten yards and ended in a touchdown pass to Kahale Warring that brought SDSU to within two points, 23-21.
Another three-and-out for UNM was followed by a 34-yard punt return from Garrett Binkley that gave the Aztecs the short field, as they started their drive from the UNM 41-yard-line. The Lobo defense was able to hold SDSU to a field goal, but the Aztecs still re-took the lead with less than three minutes to play.
UNM got the ball back with time to retake the lead and seal a win, but the drive was cut short when Gerhart tried to connect with Umeh, but Gerhart said that a miscommunication between the two resulted in him overthrowing Umeh, and Luq Barcoo easily made the interception and gave the Aztecs the ball back in plus territory once again.
SDSU scored quickly, as Washington went for 50 yards and the touchdown on second down, pushing the lead to 31-23 with a little under two minutes remaining.
The Lobos offense was unable to do much, turning the ball over on downs with less than a minute left as the Aztecs walked out of Albuquerque with a win.
Davie said that he didn’t believe that the midweek suspension of leading tackler Evah Tohi had a negative effect on the team, except for not having him on the field.
The Lobos return to the road next week to take on the Air Force Falcons.
Cameron Goeldner is a sports beat reporter and photographer for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer, women’s basketball, softball and the Albuquerque Isotopes, but also contributes content for all other sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Goeldfinger.