Led by 381 passing yards and a pair of touchdown passes from the strong right arm of sophomore quarterback Chase Holbrook, head coach Hal Mumme and his Aggies overcame a sloppy debut and poured it on his former team, Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana, to the tune of a 30-15 win, ending the nation's longest losing Division I-A losing streak at 13 games. But the losing streak, Mumme said, was the main topic of discussion heading into Thursday's opener for everyone except the Aggies. "I went around (the locker room after the game) and congratulated them," Mumme said. "But no, we didn't talk about it (the losing streak), and we're not going to."
Holbrook, who sat out the 2005 season after following Mumme to NMSU from Southeastern Louisiana, looked solid most of the night to the 15,651 in attendance, but also had moments typical of a sophomore playing in his first Division I-A game. He lost two fumbles in the first half, but also completed five of his first six passes for 95 yards, leading two scoring drives, including a 37-yard strike to sophomore receiver Chris Williams to give the Aggies an early 14-0 lead with 7:32 remaining in the opening quarter.
That quick start, Mumme said, was of utmost importance to a team of anxious Aggies.
"I thought that first drive was excellent," Mumme said. "It was really important for us to set the tone early and we wanted to come out and establish the run."
Junior running back Justine Buries did just that Thursday, carrying the ball 22 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. But, despite the solid running performance, it was the first DI-A start for the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Holbrook that made the difference for NMSU.
"I thought he played like a sophomore at times, but he's an excellent sophomore," Mumme said.
For his part, Holbrook cited his two fumbles as things he needs to work on before next week's home game against Interstate 25 rival New Mexico.
"It was a good learning experience," Holbrook said. "... It's been awhile since I've been hit, so it was good to get out there and experience the speed of the game again." Williams, who was a highly regarded recruit last year after leading the state in rushing as a senior at Rio Rancho High School in 2004, had a breakout performance, catching 7 passes for 147 yards and the first quarter touchdown. Williams had 97 yards receiving all last year.
Asked if he was surprised by his sophomore receiver, Mumme had a quick response. "No. He's been like that ever since camp started," he said. The Aggie offense finished with 515 total yards (381 passing, 134 rushing) compared to SLU's 218 (130 passing, 88 rushing). Despite the win, the Aggies played sloppy much of the night, committing 16 penalties through the first three quarters for 162 yards after averaging just five flags a game in 2005.
The Aggie defense used a far more aggressive approach than at any time during the 2005 season and looked to be much improved over last year's unit that allowed 481 yards a game. Senior strong safety Eric Carrie led the charge with six tackles, two and a half of them for a loss.
SLU running back Jay Lucas, a transfer from Texas A&M, had several punishing runs and finished the night with 17 carries for 96 yards and one touchdown. "He was a good, strong runner," said Carrie, who saved one would-be Lucas tackle inside the Aggie 10-yards line on a sweep play in which the 5-11, 211-pound Carrie took out a pulling SLU offensive lineman and still made the tackle.
"I knew if I took out the big guy, the little guy would fall too," Carrie said. "But he (the lineman) fell on me and I was hurting after that."
Carrie said there was no good exceuse for the number of Aggie penalties, but acknowledged a more aggressive defense will likely commit a few more "aggression penalties" this season.
Aggie receiver Derek DuBois had seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, but may have made his presence felt even more by two second-quarter tackles he made. After Buries caughed it up on the New Mexico State 41, SLU defender George Leverette picked up the ball and returned it 27 yards to the NMSU 10 yard-line when DuBois saved a touchdown with a hustle tackle.
The Aggie defense then stepped in and stuffed the Lions, turning what was a first and goal from the 10 into an eventual fourth and goal from the 26. SLU quarterback Seth Babin threw incomplete to Lucas and the Lions came away with no points.
On the Aggies' next possession, Holbrook scrambled before losing a fumble to SLU's Michael Johnson at the 28-yard line. Johnson picked up the ball and scurried down the the NMSU 13 before DuBois ran him down and saved another touchdown. The Lions were again stuffed by the Aggie defense and held to a field goal, making the halftime score 23-15 NMSU.
Another Aggie defender who had a solid season debut along with Carrie was cornerback Courtney Bryan. The senior who was 11th in the nation in 2005 in passes defended broke up on pass Thursday and picked off another.
The middle linebacker tandem of Tim McManigal and Michael Hernishin combined for 12 and a half tackles. NMSU had eight tackles for loss on the night.