By Jerry Briggs
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The UTSA Roadrunners didn’t play like bowl-game newcomers Saturday afternoon at University Stadium.
They gained more yards rushing than the New Mexico Lobos, the nation’s No. 1 rushing unit.
They rallied to score 14 points in the fourth quarter in what evolved into a nail-biting finish.
But in the end, the Lobos did just enough to hold off the Roadrunners, recovering an onside kick in the final minute to seal a 23-20 victory in front of 29,688 fans at University Stadium.
“It was tough,” a downcast UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “It was tough, because we wanted it so bad for these guys … We wanted them to have that moment, to capture a bowl championship.”
After accepting the first bowl bid in school history two weeks ago, the Roadrunners felt the sting of postseason defeat in front of a national-television audience on ESPN.
The loss dropped the Roadrunners to 6-7 in Wilson’s first year as coach. The victory, New Mexico’s first in a bowl since 2007, improved the Lobos to 9-4.
“Definitely, this afternoon was a great moment that doesn’t come along very often,” fifth-year New Mexico coach Bob Davie said.
On cold and blustery day, with the game-time temperature at 42 degrees and a north wind blowing 26 mph, the Roadrunners’ undoing came in the first half.
They drove into Lobos’ territory three times and, because of various mishaps, came up with only two field goals to show for it.
As a result, New Mexico capitalized, kicking a 52-yard field goal into the wind for a 10-6 lead at the half and then extending it to 16-6 late in the third quarter.
But the Roadrunners, behind quarterback Dalton Sturm, were hardly finished for the day.
Responding to a large contingent of boisterous UTSA fans, the Roadrunners drove 53 yards in 10 plays to score.
Sturm capped the series by hitting senior tight end Trevor Stevens with a 16-yard TD pass. The first touchdown in Stevens’ career sliced New Mexico’s led to 16-13.
Undaunted, the Lobos retaliated with a 12-play, 75-yard march of their own.
Quarterback Lamar Jordan, the bowl’s offensive MVP, sparked it with a 34-yard pass to Dameon Gamblin.
Ten plays later, running back Richard McQuarley scored his second touchdown of the game and his 18th of the season.
His 1-yard run moved New Mexico into a comfortable 23-13 lead with 2:22 remaining.
But if anyone huddled under winter coats and blankets thought the game was over, they were wrong.
Sturm made it interesting again with his school record-tying 20th TD pass of the season.
He hit JaBryce Taylor on a 4-yard throw, with Taylor out-jumping a defender for the ball to make it 23-20 with 25 seconds left.
At that point, UTSA kicked onside, but Chris Davis recovered for the Lobos, clinching the victory.
Wilson said he thinks the game got away from the Roadrunners in the first half when they marched into the Lobos’ end of the field three times, twice inside the 20 and once to the New Mexico 1 and didn't capitalize.
All they got were a couple of Victor Falcon field goals.
“You have to (credit) our opponent for us not scoring touchdowns down in there,” Wilson said. “But you like to think that … you can convert those (opportunities) into six and seven points as opposed to three.”
Turning point: In a key sequence, UTSA moved to the New Mexico 1 late in the second quarter and settled for a Falcon field goal after they committed three penalties.
It resulted in a 28-yard field goal by Falcon.
New Mexico responded by moving 40 yards in five plays to set up a 52-yard field goal into the wind by Jason Sanders.
In essence, it was a 10-point swing for the Lobos, who avoided a UTSA touchdown, picked up a surprising field goal and ducked into halftime leading 10-6.
Jarveon’s day: Senior Jarveon Williams ran for 125 yards in his last collegiate game to lead the Roadrunners, who out-gained the Lobos 246-219 on the ground. The Lobos came in leading the nation with an average of 360.9. Their rushing total against UTSA was a season low.
Egwuagu’s emotions: Senior Michael Egwuagu choked up in the interview session when asked how he felt about being consoled by his teammates at the end of the game.
“It was a bitter feeling (to lose),” he said. “But, man, I’m just happy to have been a Roadrunner, seriously. It’s probably the single most pivotal point in my life.”
Domond disciplined: Starting offensive tackle Jevonte Domond did not play in the game because of a violation of team rules. Wilson didn’t specify the nature of the violation. He said Reed Darragh “stepped in and played extremely well for us.”
Call questioned: Wilson took issue with a referee who called the Roadrunners for an illegal substitution near the end of the second quarter.
At the time of the call, UTSA was at the New Mexico 1-yard line and trailing 7-3.
The infraction set UTSA back to the 6, a miscue that was followed by two other drive-killing penalties.
UTSA ended up settling for a Victor Falcon field goal.
Wilson said UTSA did not substitute illegally with receiver Kerry Thomas. “In my opinion,” the coach concluded, ‘it was a legal play and should not have been called.”