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Game recap: Air Force 28, New Mexico 23

The Air Force Falcons made big defensive plays and held off a final drive by the New Mexico Lobos to claim a hard-fought 28-23 victory at the Air Force Academy outside of Colorado Springs, Colo. Saturday night.

New Mexico's Kasey Carrier on a long run against Air Force during Saturday's UNM-AFA game at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
New Mexico's Kasey Carrier on a long run against Air Force during Saturday's UNM-AFA game at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
US Presswire

Games featuring closely matched teams often come down to big plays. Saturday night’s game between the Air Force Falcons and the New Mexico Lobos was no different.

Two big plays by the Falcons defense overshadowed a record-setting effort by the Lobos’ Kasey Carrier as Air Force (4-3, 2-1 Mountain West) held off New Mexico (4-4, 1-2) to claim a 28-23 win before 29,726 at Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy outside Colorado Spring, Colo.

Falcon Senior linebacker Alex Means tipped and intercepted a pass from UNM’s B.R. Holbrook late in the second quarter and returned it for a touchdown then spearheaded the AFA defense, stuffing UNM’s Laamar Thomas on fourth-and 4 late in the fourth quarter to neutralize New Mexico’s final scoring drive. Air Force then ran out the final 3:57 of the game to claim he win.

"We’re still a team that’s scratching and clawing, we need our offense to hang out," said UNM head coach Bob Davie. "The plan was in place, we had the ball down

there with good field position to win the game but we have to give them credit to come up with the big stop and we couldn’t get the ball back."

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun was impressed with the Lobos effort Saturday.

"I’ll say this, credit New Mexico big time," said Calhoun. "They’re doing it right. They’re going about it in a way where their guys play hard, they’re disciplined. I think it’s very evident, all season long they’ve really made tremendous strides. They were a very tough foe tonight."

UNM junior Kasey Carrier was a one-man wrecking crew for UNM, setting a MWC single game record 338 yards on 39 rushes and scoring touchdowns on runs of 1, 1 and 37 yards. Carrier set up two New Mexico's first two scores, escaping on runs of 68 and 59 yards that set up both of UNM’s first quarter scores.

"That is one of the greatest individual efforts I've ever seen in a football game," said Davie of Carrier’s record-setting game. "It was an incredible effort. Everyone in the ball park knew he was going to carry it. They couldn't stop him."

Senior running back Wes Cobb scored on a trio of 1-yard runs and ran for 82 yards on 15 carries to lead Air Force, which went without Cody Getz, the nation's second-leading rusher. Getz left the game after aggravating his sprained left ankle on his first and only play.

The Lobos started the game without freshman quarterback Cole Gautsche, who was not cleared to play after suffering a concussion last week at Hawai’i. New Mexico then lost back up running back Jhurell Pressley to a leg injury on their first possession and senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook, who suffered a concussion late in the second quarter and did not return for the second half. Holbrook exited the game after going 5-of-10 passing with one interception for 29 yards.

The UNM defense came through by forcing two fumbles, including a strip of Ty MacArthur by Tim Foley, who then recovered the ball on the Air Force 46-yard-line to set up UNM’s final drive..

Air Force’s Ty MacArthur gained 94 yards on seven rushes. Quarterback Connor Dietz racked up 121 all-purpose yards, rushing for 60 yards on 10 carries and going 4-for-4 passing for 61 yards.

New Mexico’s Quinton McCown played the entire second half for UNM, going 1-for-1 passing for 5 yards and gaining 1 yard on 1 carry as the Lobos pared down the quarterback responsibilities in the absence of their two main signal callers.

"You think back through the course of the game, for them to pop the very first play, go for a long gainer - we gave up about four long runs tonight and yet I did like the fight in our defense," said Calhoun. "I thought the play by [Alex] Means was gigantic. I thought offensively, we missed some opportunities, especially with putting the ball on the ground a couple of times on plays where maybe we had some drives that were working. I thought some guys really stepped up and really were gigantic."