Larry Rose III. If Lobo nation didn't know who this Aggie running back was before last night's game, they do now. Rose III rushed for 260 yards on 21 carries for three touchdowns including a 63 yard touchdown run off of an end around to start the game, followed by a 73 yard run right up the middle, and finally a 50 yard run in the second quarter. The tailback did most of his damage in the first half, pushing the Aggies to a 26-14 lead over the Lobos at halftime. Rose III may have been the best player on the field tonight (particularly in the first half), but the Lobos were the better team.
The first quarter of this game was replete with fireworks. Apart from Rose III's first two touchdown runs, the Lobos had their fair share of first quarter big plays: Lamar Jordan (16 carries, 157 yards and 5/17 for 45 yards throwing) took it to the house on a 70 yard run of his own. Furthermore, after a sensational punt by Lobo kicker Zack Rogers that put NMSU on their own two yard line, UNM's defense was able to force a fumble in the end-zone that resulted in a Lobo touchdown for Lee Crosby. This would be the defense's most positive contribution to the first half of play as Rose III and Aggies' quarterback Tyler Rogers (12/24 for 108 yards) moved the ball as they pleased to start the game.
There were certainly no dull moments in the first quarter. In fact, there was so much action in the first quarter that a few Lobo fans around me, presumably thinking it was already the end of the first half, were begging the offense to go into hurry mode as time expired in the first quarter. The Aggies took an early lead after the first fifteen minutes, 17-14.
The second quarter was largely forgettable for the cherry and silver as they went scoreless and watched their rivals put up another nine points (one touchdown by Rose III -- the extra point was missed -- and a field goal by Parker Davidson) to take a 26-14 lead going into the half. The action came to a screeching halt as the Aggies' defense seemed to figure out Lamar Jordan and the triple option and the only fan base one heard among the 30,900 people in attendance at University Stadium was the visiting team's.
The second half looked like it would be much of the same. New Mexico received the opening kickoff and Lobo fans were expecting a momentum swing. It would come, but not at that moment as UNM return specialist Carlos Wiggins fumbled the return and New Mexico State's Tyrain Taylor recovered it. The Lobos' defense responded with a strong series, forcing the Aggies to settle for another Davidson field goal. All seemed lost for the Lobos and on a chilly autumn night in which a biting wind swept through the desert, many fans started to leave.
The Lobo fans who stayed were in for a real treat as New Mexico would score 24 unanswered points. It started with Carlos Wiggins' second return of the half. On a side note, Wiggins had already returned one kick-off for a touchdown in absolutely sensational fashion in the first quarter, but it was called back on a holding penalty.
With New Mexico down 29-14 in the third, Wiggins returned the kick-off 34 yards to give his team great field position on the Aggies' 40 yard line. This was the momentum swing that UNM fans were waiting for.
The Lobos offense came alive with timely runs from Richard McQuarley (4 rushes for 14 yards and a touchdown) and Teriyan Gipson (19 carries for 142 yards and a touchdown). McQuarley ended the drive with a six yard run followed by a two point conversion on a QB sneak up the middle by Jordan. UNM began to close the gap, 29-22.
New Mexico wasn't done yet. The defense forced a quick three and out for the Aggies who once again surrendered great field position to the Lobos. Beginning their next possession on NMSU's 48, the Lobos would eventually run in another touchdown, this time a beautiful 32 yard run by Jhurell Pressley (18 carries for 99 yards) who was able to bounce to the outside and get in behind some great blocking. With the extra point, the Lobos tied the game 29-29.
UNM would have their first opportunity to take their first lead of the game since it was 14-7 in the first quarter off of an interception by Markel Byrd, but the Lobos were unable to convert the turnover into something positive. In this instance, kicker Jason Sanders would miss a 41 yard field goal try at the beginning of the fourth. This was his second missed field goal of the game. The score remained knotted up, but the Lobos weren't done.
On the first play of their next possession, Jordan would run for 42 yards. On the very next play, Teriyan Gipson took the hand-off 36 yards for another touchdown. By now the Lobo fan base was rabid as New Mexico regained the lead 36-29 in a game that they were favored to win by 12.5 points. New Mexico State's offense sputtered behind Nick Jeanty (0/4), who had to step in for an injured Tyler Rogers with about six minutes left. He threw an interception and gave up a safety in the waning moments of the game.
Thus far this season, New Mexico has lived and died by their ability to make big plays. Without them, their offense looks stagnant.Tonight, however, they made enough of the them to narrowly escape with the victory. New Mexico improves to 3-2 on the year while New Mexico State drops to 0-4. This game will go down as a classic in the seemingly always competitive Rio Grande Rivalry, but for now the Lobos must turn their attention to Nevada as they travel to Reno for a conference match-up.