Both offenses came out hot in this one and ultimately, it was Colorado State who was able to sustain their attack for the length of the game. That attack included a fourth quarter touchdown and two-point conversion that gave the Rams a 28-20 lead that UNM was unable to overcome.
Rams' quarterback Nick Stevens led the way for the Rams tonight by going 16 of 23 for 264 yards and one touchdown. The aerial attack confounded the Lobos' secondary and Stevens surgically dissected New Mexico's defense. His primary targets were the usual suspect Rashard Higgins (8 receptions for 140 yards) and Jordan Vaden (4 catches for 87 yards). To give you an idea of how successful CSU's passing game was, Higgins had over 100 yards receiving with ten minutes left in the second quarter.
Stevens's counterpart did not fair as well. New Mexico's Lamar Jordan was 4 of 9 for 58 yards and three interceptions. Indeed, he almost completed as many passes to CSU as he did to UNM. The second play of the game was one of those interceptions, this one by Trent Matthews. The next play was a 30 yard touchdown run along the sideline by CSU running back Deionte Gaines. Jordan's other interceptions were equally as costly - both came in the fourth quarter as New Mexico tried to comeback to tie the game. Jordan was a marvel rushing the ball 23 times for 97 yards tonight, but every one of his passes was heart-stopping as the crowd waited to see where the ball would end up.
UNM responded to that Gaines' run with an impressive 10 play, 80 yard drive featuring runs by Jordan, Jhurell Pressley (6 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns), and Teriyon Gipson (14 rushes for 76 yards) and zero throws. Pressley scored on a short one yard run.
This game swung back and forth like a pendulum in the first half. Stevens hit Kevon Cartwright on a cross route in the red zone on the next drive to put the Rams back up 14-7 with 3:24 left in the first quarter. This play, Cartwright's second touchdown of the season, was set up by a 41 yard reception by Higgins.
New Mexico continued to hold their own. Jordan made pivotal passes to Reece White and Dameon Gamblin. The Lobos were converting on third down throughout the game, something that they failed to do once against Boise State. On their third drive, they answered Colorado State. This time it was Lamar Jordan, who at the beginning of the second quarter, found the endzone out of the triple option. This was another impressive drive, 11 plays and 77 yards.
The game came to a halt after that score. I should say that both teams (particularly Colorado State) moved the ball with some success, but neither could put points on the ground. Nik D'Avanzo deflected a Wyatt Bryan field goal attempt, but UNM couldn't do anything with the possible momentum shift. Instead, Colorado State took over with four minutes left in the half from their own three yard line and promptly marched down the field so that Bryan could redeem himself with a 25 yard field goal. CSU went into halftime with a 17-14 lead.
Stevens and Colorado State picked up in the second half where they left off. A quick 57 yard strike to Vaden put the Rams on UNM's 7. Again they faltered and were unable to put distance between themselves and the Lobos. They had to settle for a field goal and a 20-14 lead that would be erased on the very next possession.
New Mexico connected on a clutch fourth down conversion at midfield to keep their drive alive. They followed that with a 3rd and 14 pass to Gipson for the first down. Pressley took the next play to the house on a 36 yard touchdown run up the middle. With 8:54 left in the third, New Mexico had a 21-20 lead. They did not score again.
Some back and forth occurred into the fourth quarter, culminating with DeAndre Elliott blocking a UNM field goal attempt,
With momentum on Colorado State's side, they marched down the field on a 12 play, 87 yard drive. This drive included two lengthy runs by Izzy Matthews (15 carries for 89 yards) and one by Dalyn Dawkins (22 rushes for 94 yards). Matthews eventually punched it in from the one; Stevens connected with Joe Hansley for the two point conversion. With 8:41 left, the Rams went up 28-21. They continued to give the Lobos multiple opportunities, but New Mexico just couldn't put together the successful drive.
For Colorado State, this win had huge implications. They are now eligible for a bowl game for the third consecutive year. As for New Mexico, all is not lost on what has been a surprise season. There are some positives to take away from this game, such as the ability to convert on third down and the improvement at sustaining long drives. In the end, Colorado State's offense just had too many weapons on this evening and were the better team.
Colorado State will finish their regular season next week against Fresno State; New Mexico will try to bounce back against their Mountain West division leaders, Air Force.