LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Forced turnovers and a stout rushing attack willed the University of New Mexico Lobos to its first win over the New Mexico State Aggies since 2015, as the Lobos defeated NMSU 42-25 in Las Cruces on Saturday evening.
New Mexico (2-1) was also able to get its run game going on offense, with junior running back Ahmari Davis rushing for four touchdowns and redshirt senior running back Tyrone Owens going for 110 yards and a touchdown.
The Lobos were the recipient of five interceptions against the Aggies, one of which was a pick-six. It was the most interceptions forced by a UNM defense since 2003.
New Mexico gifted the Aggies a touchdown on its opening drive when quarterback Sheriron Jones tried to connect with senior wide receiver Delane Hart-Johnson on a screen pass on third-and-6. But NMSU linebacker Terrill Hanks jumped in front of the pass, intercepting the ball and returning it 28 yards all the way to the endzone for a touchdown and a 7-0 cushion just over a minute into the game.
UNM head coach Bob Davie said that the Lobos played “more conservative” after the interception. On the next possession, New Mexico actually lost yards before giving the ball back to its rival with a short 33-yard punt down the field.
New Mexico State capitalized on the excellent starting field position, beginning the drive at its own 43. The Aggies cashed in with another touchdown — culminating with a 2-yard rush from junior quarterback Matt Romero to put them up 14-0.
But later in the quarter, UNM appeared to find its rhythm and get the offense in motion — looking like the team of old with five straight rushing plays — as Davis barreled into the endzone on a 1-yard dive to slice the lead in half.
The Aggie offense continued to move the ball on the Lobos, but the defense got some relief after NMSU was flagged for a false start — which stalled a promising drive and brought up third-and-16. Romero scrambled for 10 yards to get make it an easier field goal try and Dylan Brown connected from 42 yards out to extend the advantage to 17-7.
UNM senior linebacker D’Angelo Ross picked off Romero early in the second quarter to log the first Lobo takeaway, putting New Mexico right back in the game with a drive that started deep in Aggie territory. New Mexico pounded the rock again with four straight rushes, covering 27 yards by sprinkling Jones into the mix and ending with another 1-yard touchdown by Davis to pull the Lobos within three points.
With a little less than six minutes before halftime, NMSU started another drive that ended in disaster. New Mexico picked off Romero for a second time and used the opportunity to set up another touchdown drive that gave the Lobos a lead it would never relinquish. Owens capped things off with a run into the endzone from six yards out, putting the Lobos up 21-17 — an advantage they enjoyed as the teams headed into halftime.
The first half was not pretty by any means for either team. Both squads were flagged for nine penalties a piece, which seemed to make a sloppy game look even more chaotic amid a myriad of turnovers. Romero and redshirt senior Nick Jeanty combined to throw three first-half interceptions, which led to 14 points for UNM.
Things went from bad to worse as New Mexico State failed to go anywhere on its opening drive of the second half with its third quarterback of the game, Josh Adkins, behind center. As the Lobos looked to get things going, Owens fumbled a ball that the Aggies were able to recover.
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New Mexico State failed to make a subsequent field goal attempt and the Lobos finally broke the stalemate late in the third quarter, chewing up clock on a long 16-play drive that covered 80 yards and yielded Davis another touchdown and put UNM on top 28-17 after the extra point.
Davis yielded a third touchdown with a 16-yard jaunt on the opening drive of the fourth quarter and seemed to give his team all the cushion it would need the rest of the way.
“First and foremost I got to give credit to our line,” Davis said. “They worked very hard this week, very hard this game, they fought through adversity. They were tired (and) they kept pushing.”
With some NMSU fans leaving their seats and filing out of the stadium, Adkins found junior running back Jason Huntley for a 58-yard touchdown pass. And after a successful two-point conversion, the Aggies made the score 35-25.
But New Mexico State went nowhere on its ensuing drive and — as the final quarter wore on — turnovers continued to plague the team. The Aggies gave the ball back to the Lobos after redshirt freshman safety Marcus Hayes ended a nine-play drive by recording an interception with about three and a half minutes remaining in the game.
Although the Aggie defense held up and got the ball back for its offense, Hayes struck again — picking off another pass and taking it to the house with a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown, clinching the game by giving the Lobos a 42-25 lead with less than 30 seconds left on the clock.
The Lobos will have a week off before hosting Liberty on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m.
Injury update: UNM senior linebacker Alex Hart appeared to injure his right knee during the second quarter. Davie confirmed he was hurt, but did not comment further on the issue. The linebacker was seen walking out of the locker room wearing a brace.
Matthew Narvaiz is a sports beat reporter and senior writer for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football, however he also contributes other sports content. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.