In a latest iteration of a 110-year running football rivalry, the University of New Mexico Lobos (2-1) defeated the New Mexico State University Aggies (0-4) 55-52 on Saturday afternoon at Dreamstyle Stadium in a tough competition that offered back and forth touchdowns from beginning to end.
UNM head coach Bob Davie took a step down for his second game in a row due to medical concerns from earlier in the season. Run game coordinator Saga Tuitele stepped in as acting head coach and said that the victory was for Davie and his family during the postgame press conference.
The game proved to be big for many of New Mexico’s players: Quarterback Tavaka Tuioti stepped in as starting QB for the first time this season and threw a career high in passing yards with 355 yards total during Saturday’s game.
Tuitele described Tuoiti as "the best of both worlds," saying he can run it and he can throw it, whatever is needed to get the job done.
Senior running back Ahmari Davis provided the Lobos with two of their touchdowns and hit a career high of 133 rushing yards.
Kicking off the first quarter, Lobo defensive back Jerric Reed II intercepted a pass thrown by NMSU’s quarterback Josh Adkins. Reed took advantage of the early mistake and ran the ball into the UNM end zone, giving the Lobos a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the contest. The game then turned into a showcase of offensive proficiency as soon as State got their hands back on the ball.
The Aggies managed to get on top of the Lobos when Adkins ran the ball across the goal line for NMSU's first score and added another touchdown from running back Jason Huntley later in the quarter. Good kick attempts from Dylan Brown put State up 14-7 over New Mexico.
The Lobos were unwilling to let the Aggies stay in the lead. Davis got the scoreboard tied up with a 2-yard run into the end zone. At the end of the quarter, State played their way to 33-yard line and went for a field goal kicked by Brown. The quarter ended 17-14, NMSU.
The second quarter was a continuation of the same fast-paced and competitive tone that was set in the first. UNM kicker Andrew Shelley put up an extra three for the Lobos in the first 5 minutes of the second quarter with a 48-yard field goal, and Adkins added a rushing score for his second touchdown of the game. The real highlight of the second was a 55-yard toss thrown by Tuioti and caught by Lobo wide receiver Jordan Kress, resulting in the Lobos' third touchdown of the day.
After more back-and-forth play from the rival teams, the first half ended in a tied game, 31-31. Ahmari Davis put up a touchdown for New Mexico in the last minute and Tony Nicholson of the Aggies found solid ground in the end zone in the final two seconds of the half.
The second half kicked off with another field goal from Shelley, this time a 49-yard attempt. NMSU had a quick glimpse of hope after a second touchdown from Nicholson — putting the score at 38-34 over New Mexico — but the lead was short-lived.
Tuioti owned the third quarter with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kress followed by a 62-yard completion to wide receiver Cedric Patterson III for a 10-point lead over State. The fourth quarter started with a score of 48-38.
The high scoring game seemed like a clear path to victory for the Lobos going into the final quarter, but NMSU decided not to go down without a fight. After a final touchdown from a one-yard run past the goal line by redshirt senior Daevon Vigilant, the Aggies responded with a pass from Adkins finding Huntley in the end zone that closed the gap to 55-45.
After a dramatic interception from Aggie player Austin Perkins, who ran for a 17-yard return, Adkins ran in the final touchdown of the night for NMSU to make it a one-possession game.
State managed to catch the Lobos 55-52, but the Lobo offense refused to let their rivals have their hands on the ball again, ending the game with only a three point lead.
Coming into the 110th Rio Grande Rivalry competition, the goal for both teams was to outplay the other. It was a wild fight to the finish to see who could play harder.
“Our goal was to be mentally and physically tougher than them (Aggies),” Tuitele said. “Shoutout to them: They did a great job at firing out their bullets. But hey, we got bullets, too.”
Tuitele will assume his regular coaching position for UNM's next game against Liberty but told the media that his role never really changed. He said Davie was still running the whole show, musing that they just needed to put the best looking face to the interim-title while laughing with reporters.
Jordan Kress came off the game humbled and put into perspective the way practice is reflected on the field during his postgame interview.
“Every time, I go out in practice every day and give one hundred percent,” Kress said. “You go 100% in practice, it pays off in the game.”
The Lobos now hold a 2-1 record stepping out of Saturday’s game. They take on the Liberty Flames (2-2) in their next contest, who blew out Hampton on Saturday to the tune of 62-27.
The game will be away in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, Sept. 28th at 4 p.m. Mountain Time. It will be broadcast on ESPN+ and the Lobo Radio Network. ESPN forecasting puts UNM's chances of victory at 28.6%.