Effort falls just short in Rio Grande rivalry game
Lobo kicker James Aho crouched on the 37-yard line with his hands on his head as the Aggies’ bench rushed the field and the clock showed double zeros.
Aho had just pushed a 47-yard game-tying field goal wide right that otherwise would have sent the Rio Grande rivalry into overtime. The Lobos fell 20-17.
While Aho knelt, other UNM players lay facedown on the field.
“Losing hurts,” said head coach Mike Locksley. “We had opportunities to send the second-straight class through here never losing to the Aggies. We had a chance to win seven in a row. We had the opportunity to win the ball game, and we didn’t take care of it.”
For the first time this season, the Lobos entered the fourth quarter with the lead, 17-13.
UNM’s offense showed signs of progress, totaling a season-high 356 yards. Quarterback Donovan Porterie finally got on track, tossing a touchdown for the first time in two years. It was the Lobos’ first touchdown pass in eight games.
But the Aggies (1-2) had winning on their minds as well. NMSU’s only win — a narrow one at that — had come over Prairie View A&M, a Division II team. On Saturday, the Aggies looked to steal their first Division I win.
With 7:39 left in the game, Aggie quarterback Jeff Fleming, who entered Saturday’s game as NMSU’s backup, orchestrated a 17-play, 59-yard drive, which chewed seven minutes off the clock. The drive ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Anderson, pushing the Aggies ahead, 20-17.
The Aggies crept down the field, rushing on 15 of those 17 plays. They converted three third downs and two fourth downs against a Lobo defense that stayed on the field for 38 minutes.
NMSU’s first-year head coach DeWayne Walker said the Aggies wanted to leave the Lobos with the least amount of time possible for a comeback.
“I said, ‘We are just going to keep the ball and burn up all this time and make this our last running drive,’” he said.
But there were still 39 seconds left for the Lobos.
After the touchdown, the Lobos operated in their two-minute drill, coming out at their own 20-yard line.
The Lobos had already attempted the hurry-up offense in their final drive of the first half, but they had failed to push the ball efficiently, with Porterie dumping to his check-down receivers for minimal gains.
But Porterie was another man in the fourth quarter. He was 3-of-6 on the final drive, totaling 50 yards and pushing the Lobos to the Aggies’ 30-yard line, which set up Aho’s field-goal attempt.
“We have two-minute drills all the time and similar situations,” Porterie said. “It was the first time this season that we actually had to do it to try and stay in the game. All the receivers were on point. … We set the team up to tie the game, so I can’t ask for more from our receivers.”
The Lobos nearly scored on one of Porterie’s incompletes. Lobo receiver Daryl Jones left the Aggies’ corner burned with a double move, leaving nothing between him and the end zone. But Jones stumbled on the run, letting the pass sail out of his reach.
Throughout the game, the two teams had drastically different offensive plans.
The Aggies chewed the clock on their possessions. They had two scoring drives of more than seven minutes and 70 yards and one four-minute field-goal drive.
The Lobos, on the other hand, either punted in a hurry or scored quickly off big plays. UNM’s longest drive took about three minutes.
A 62-yard touchdown dash by tailback Demond Dennis put the Lobos up 7-3 before linebacker Carmen Messina’s interception gave UNM the ball on the Aggies’ 44-yard line. James Wright rushed 39 yards to set up Porterie’s short touchdown pass to fullback Chris Biren. Porterie completed 16 of 28 passes for 206 yards.
“For this offense to be the type of offense that I am accustomed to it being, we need to be able to run the ball and pass the ball when necessary,” Locksley said. “It is still a work in progress.”
However, the running game remains a cornerstone of the Lobo offense. After Wright’s two long touchdown runs last week, he was moved up in the rotation and gained 47 yards while splitting time with Dennis. But Wright injured himself after a 39-yard run in the second quarter. Locksley said he has a strained hamstring and is day-to-day.
Dennis, who had just 102 total rushing yards in three games, nearly matched his season total, running for 98 yards on 16 carries. Fumbles have plagued him throughout the season, but he held onto the ball on Saturday.
But the Lobos had other miscues.
UNM had six penalties for 54 yards, including two personal-foul calls that extended a critical Aggie drive, which led to a second-quarter touchdown that gave NMSU a 10-7 lead. The Lobos had a punt blocked, a muffed kickoff return and a muffed punt return. The Lobos’ looming schedule gets tougher.
UNM will head south to face Texas Tech next week, and fans are left wondering: When will the Lobos get their first win?
“There is still a few things that we can work on,” Porterie said. “I wouldn’t say (we are) nervous, but we have to have a short-term memory and get ready for next week.”
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