That big sigh of relief you heard over the weekend might have come from the New Mexico Lobos fanbase, coaching staff and players following Jacory Croskey-Merritt’s touchdown run to lift the Lobos to a 34-31 win over the Massachusetts Minutemen in overtime on Saturday afternoon.
On a day in which the Lobos offense raced out to a 28-14 halftime lead, then sputtered in the second half, finding themselves again in overtime was quite a relief.
“We found a way to win,” head coach Danny Gonzales said following the game.
The Lobos built the aforementioned two touchdown lead in the first half off the strength of running and passing.
Early on, quarterback Dylan Hopkins found Caleb Medford for a 12-yard touchdown pass and catch. Croskey-Merritt would add a touchdown on the ground, and it was 14-0 Lobos at the end of the first quarter.
UMass finally got on the board in the second quarter with a three-yard touchdown run from Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams to trim the lead to seven.
Following that, the Lobos struck again, this time Hopkins would run it in from four yards out to give the Lobos a 21-7 lead.
UMass answered, this time Carlos Davis found Christian Wells on a 24-yard connection to make it 21-14.
The Lobos would once again extend their lead to 14, this time Sherod White found the endzone on a seven-yard scamper with 35 seconds left in the first half to make it 28-14.
Then, the Lobos offense went MIA in the second half, while UMass chipped away.
The Minutemen added a field goal in the third quarter to make it 28-17. Then, in the fourth they would cut it to 28-20 with another field goal.
After the defense came up with a huge stop, the offense couldn’t get anything going and punted with 1:31 to play.
UMass would bring out a freshman quarterback in Ahmad Haston for the final drive, and it proved to be a disastrous one for UNM.
Haston drove the Minutemen to their own 35-yard line, then hit a bomb to Anthony Simpson, who would take it the distance for a touchdown to make it 28-26. The Minutemen would also convert the two-point conversion, and suddenly it was 28-28 with 45 seconds left.
The Lobos took it to overtime and then let their defense play first, and they came up with a couple of big stops and forced a UMass field goal, which the Minutemen would convert to take a 31-28 lead.
Then the Lobos offense finally showed back up when they got the ball. Dylan Hopkins tried a throw in the corner of the endzone to Medford, and UMass would be called for pass interference.
That got the ball to the seven-yard line, where Hopkins would take the run himself and got it to the one. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on UMass coach Don Brown would give the Lobos a first down inside the one.
Croskey-Merritt would be stuffed on the first down run, losing a yard to the two. They went ahead and gave it to him again on second down and this time he delivered with a touchdown to give the Lobos a walk-off win.
For three quarters the Lobos played well. Building up a lead and pushing the ball up and down the field both running and passing. However, they seemed to play a little bit conservative in the fourth quarter and that almost came back to haunt them.
The Lobos first four drives all resulted in touchdowns, and they racked up 268 yards of offense in the process. That offense disappeared in the second half when UMass held the Lobos to 60 yards of offense and shut them out. That was an issue last year for the Lobos that once again reared its ugly head. The good news is that the Lobos were able to survive this go around.
The defense is still giving up big plays. This is still a young defense, but at the same time the big pass plays are still the Achilles Heel of the Lobos. One week after giving up a 75-yard touchdown pass to New Mexico State, UNM gives up a 65-yard touchdown that ended up allowing UMass to tie the game. The Lobos need to find a way to shut down deep threats or else it will be a long year in MWC play.
The Lobos sit at 2-2 after non-conference play, and will open up Mountain West Conference play this weekend with a visit to the Wyoming Cowboys. That game will be at 2:00 p.m. Mountain Time and shown on the Mountain West Network online.