The turnovers and loss outshined NMSU receiver Ronshay Jenkins' performance Saturday. The 5-foot-7 senior caught eight balls for 200 yards and two scores. NMSU also had more first downs (19-13), more total yards (364-228) and more passing yards (258-83) than the Lobos.
But with a 14-7 halftime lead, the Aggies tossed the game away in the third quarter. The Lobos took advantage of Buck Pierce's two interceptions to turn the game in their favor. Defensive back Sidney Wiley got it started with an interception at the NMSU 34 and returned it to the 26. Five plays later Lobo sophomore running back DonTrell Moore ran it in from 11 yards for the score and the game was tied after a Wes Zunker extra point. Moore had 23 yards on the drive.
UNM came up with another big turnover on NMSU's next drive as Gabriel Fulbright picked off a ball underthrown by Pierce at the UNM 32, but he fumbled and safety Brandon Ratcliff picked it up and returned it to the Aggie 33. The Lobos converted the turnover into a Zunker 43-yard field goal and took the lead for good at 17-14. "We had our chances, we didn't convert and they converted on our mistakes," NMSU quarterback Paul Dombrowski said. "We didn't execute when we had to."
NMSU's turnover fever continued late in the third quarter. After the Aggie defense forced a punt, Jenkins' career night turned bitter as he fumbled a punt at the NMSU 22 and the Lobos recovered at the 8-yard line. UNM snapper Martin Lovato made the hit on Jenkins that helped cause the fumble.
Three plays later backup quarterback Kole McKamey hit wideout Hank Baskett with a 7-yard scoring strike to put the Lobos up 24-14 early in the fourth quarter. "I was trying to make a play," Jenkins said. "The punt had a lot of hang time and a lot of things go through your mind. I never really had the ball in my hands on the punt.
"That fumble ruined the night I had. I wish I could have that play back. We had turnovers at bad times. We had the momentum at half, but we didn't make the plays we needed." The Aggies cut the lead to 24-17 with 9:21 left in the game as they went 54 yards on 12 plays, capped by a Dario Aguiniga 31-yard field goal. NMSU had two other chances to tie or win the game, but failed to deliver a scoring drive.
"I feel we had a pretty good chance of winning, if we don't turn the ball over," Jenkins said. "We made some plays offensively, we had a good plan. We passed the ball well at times. Now we just have to get back to work for conference." The first half saw both misfortune and big plays by New Mexico State as it led 14-7 at the break. The Aggies forced three turnovers, but turned none of them into scores. NMSU missed two field goals and fumbled at the Lobo 20 in the second quarter.
But in between, the Aggies scored on two long pass plays. Trailing 7-0, NMSU struck early in the second quarter as Pierce hit Jenkins with a 39-yard scoring strike to cap an 8-play, 80-yard drive. Aguiniga added the extra point and the game was tied 7-7.
Pierce also hit Jenkins with an 11-yard pass on the drive and Chris Lumpkin with a six-yard pass, while running for seven more. NMSU could have taken the lead as on the next drive as linebacker Tim Patrick forced and recovered a DonTrell Moore fumble and the Aggies had the ball at the Lobo 33. After a penalty added 10 yards for NMSU, the Aggies got down to the UNM 13 after a Pierce hook up with Jenkins.
Dombrowski came in at quarterback and promptly pitched it to I-back Eric Higgins, but the pitch was too high and UNM recovered. However the Aggie defense held and gave the offense another chance to score. Pierce took advantage. On a 3rd and 5 from NMSU's own 28, Pierce hit Jenkins again with a 72-yard touchdown pass on a pass option left play. Jenkins was wide open and Pierce hit him stride down the left side of the field.
The Ags nearly added to their margin late in the first half as linebacker Richard Glover picked off a Casey Kelly pass and returned it to the UNM 36. It was Glover's second interception of the season. But three plays later Aguiniga missed left on a 51-yard field goal. NMSU finished with 196 yards total offense in the opening half, 152 of which came in the second quarter. Pierce was 6 of 8 passing for 147 yards, while Jenkins caught five balls for 146 yards. UNM tallied 152 yards in the first half, 72 of which came on its scoring drive in the first quarter.
The Lobos used nine plays on a drive that saw Moore gain 49 yards and score a two-yard TD. The Aggies start league play next Saturday at home against Idaho