Entering its game against the Hawaii Rainbows Saturday night, the New Mexico Lobos boasted the eighth best rushing attack in the nation.
But it would be UNM’s passing game that helped the Lobos first grab the initiative and then put away the surging Warriors as New Mexico came away from the island of Oahu with a hard fought 35-23 win over Hawaii.
Kasey Carrier had rushing touchdowns of 23 and 1 yard early on and finished with 161 yards on 35 carries and Cole Gautsche added 101 yards, 75 coming from a touchdown run late in the third quarter to lead UNM (4-3, 1-1 Mountain West Conference).
But it was the Lobos passing game, which had been dormant for the last three games, that reved up UNM’s offense. New Mexico came out passing, knocking the Warriors back on their heels enabling the Lobos to rush out to a big lead early.
After Hawaii (1-4, 0-2) mounted a comeback and closed to 28-23 with 9:49 left in the game, it was the passing game that lifted the Lobos past the Warriors as B.R. Holbrook hooked up with Chase Clayton on a 33-yard pass that took UNM into Hawaii territory. Holrbook ran unscathed into the end zone nine plays later to cap the 11-play, 75 yard drive that secured the win for New Mexico.
"I'm really proud of B.R," said Davie. "Cole got hit in the head and had to go out with a concussion. That pass to Chase Clayton was big, but bigger than that was the effort across the board from all our players."
UNM finished with 452 yards of total offense and 332 yards rushing as well as 120 yards passing as Holbrook went 7-of 12 passing for 101 yards and Gautsche completed his sole passing attempt for 11 yards.
Hawaii managed 272 yards of passing, quarterback Sean Schroeder went 20-of-42 passing for 272 yards, on its way to 391 yards of total offense. Much of the Warriors offensive yards came in the second and third quarter as UH outscored New Mexico 23-7 in those two quarters. Will Gregory ran for 101 yards on 13 carries for Hawaii.
The difference ended up being UNM’s quick start and the Warrior’s propensity for miscues. Hawaii finished with three fumbles, two of which were converted into 14 Lobo points, and a missed field goal that kept Hawaii off the board early on and seemed to reinforce the malaise the Warriors started the game with.
"They turned the ball over three times and we had zero turnovers," said Davie. " That's big for us and that's how we have to win."
Hawaii largely controlled the second quarter and trailed 21-10 going into halftime. The momentum stayed with the Warriors until a big defensive stand by the Lobos that ended with UNM stopping UH’s Will Gregory on a fourth-and-1 at the UNM five-yard line.
Gautsche seemed to deliver a knockout blow three plays later when he broke open an option run around the right corner for a 75-yard touchdown to put UNM up 28-10 with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
But Hawaii’s Mike Edwards returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to pull the Warriors back to 28-17.
UH quarterback Sean Schroder led the Warriors on a 9-play, 65 yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by John Lister with 9:49 left in the game. But the Warriors were unable to convert the 2-point conversion and UNM was able to mount a drive in response to the touchdown to salt the game away.
"This was a gut check," said Lobo Coach Bob Davie. "That's a long day and they hung in there. This was a heck of a win for us. I couldn't be more proud of the effort of our players."