The 28-24 loss against the Arkansas State University Indians (4-5, 2-2) was due mainly to another flat Aggie performance in the second half.
The defense surrendered 14 unanswered points in the third quarter to trail 21-17 going into the fourth quarter of play. The Aggies are 0-4 when trailing in the fourth quarter this season. The Aggies have only scored three times in the fourth quarter all season.
The first quarter was a rarity for the Aggies. For only the third time in eight games, the Aggie defense allowed a first quarter touchdown. The touchdown came after the Indians forced an Aggie punt and drove 66 yards downfield on 12 plays to set up Shermar Bracey's three-yard TD run.
After the Indian touchdown, the Aggies countered with an 80-yard drive, capped off by Buck Pierce's 32-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jared Quick to even the score at 7-7. It was Quick's first career score.
The Aggies had a chance to regain the lead early in the second quarter, but injury-plagued kicker Dario Aguiniga missed a 29-yard field goal attempt.
The Aggie defense stuffed the drive Arkansas State was trying to put together to force a punt. The Aggies rode Pierce's 50-yard run into another field goal situation. This time, Aguiniga booted the ball through the uprights for a 22-yard field goal, putting the score at 10-7.
Arkansas State subbed in backup quarterback Nick Noce to replace Elliot Jacobs, but Noce's third pass was intercepted by defensive back Dominique Jacobs, ending a potential Indian scoring drive. Pierce led the offense into the red zone on two 40-yard passes to receiver Ronshay Jenkins. This set up Pierce's 2-yard TD pass to tight end Alex Davis to put NMSU up 17-7.
After stalling the Indian drive, the Aggies ran out the clock to keep the lead going into the locker room at halftime. During the third quarter, the Indians swung the momentum by picking off an Aggie pass. Cornerback Johnathan Burke picked off a pass touched by three players to give the Indians the ball.
Burke's interception turned into six points in six minutes after Jacobs hit Mike Brooks for a 6-yard TD.
The Aggies drive was stopped before it could even start and they were forced to punt again. The Indians drove down the field all over a poor-tackling Aggie defense to set up another Indian score. Jacobs hit receiver Jason Wood for a leaping acrobatic grab that pulled the Indians on top, 21-17.
Aggie linebacker Tim Patrick noted the poor tackling as a contributing factor to the defense's lackluster performance in the second half.
"We missed a lot of tackles in the first half and it carried over to the second half," Patrick said. "We just played slow on our feet. In every game, we have yet to put together a complete game and play four quarters."
In the fourth quarter, the Aggies scored on a Pierce 1-yard run, but with 3 minutes, 23 seconds left, Indian running back Chris Easley drove his way through the Aggie defense 10 yards to paydirt.
With the score at 28-24, the Aggies were trying to surmount a comeback, but on fourth and 15, Pierce's pass fell incomplete to Quick, ending any hopes of an Aggie victory.
Aggie coach Tony Samuel was impressed with Pierce's performance, but said the Aggies will have to be ready for Utah State.
"I thought that Buck did a good job tonight. He had a great game and he fought and fought," Samuel said. "We have a game back on TV on Thursday night, so we don't have much time to turnaround and get things ready."
Pierce had a career day for the Aggies, going 21-33 through the air for 314 yards with two TDs and rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown. Jenkins caught six passes for 126 yards, going more than 100 yards receiving for the fourth time this season.
Jenkins believes the Aggie performance was a good effort, but the next game is the focus. "We had a lot of long passes and runs and that got our defense on the field a lot," Jenkins said. "We know we have to play Thursday and have to go to practice and get ready for the game." Higgins once again played the role of the workhorse for the Aggies, rushing for 95 yards on 30 carries.
The Aggies accumulated 492 yards of total offense, compared to 402 by the Indians. NMSU will hit the field again at 6 p.m. Thursday to battle the Utah State University Aggies at the Las Cruces Aggie Memorial Stadium.