(AP Photo/J.R. Hernandez)
True freshman safety/linebacker Chad Pool (42), cornerback Rod Bryant (7), and the rest of the Vandal defense held NMSU just enough (taking the term "bend but don't break" to a new level) for the Vandal offense to engineer 35 points in the second half and an improbable 94 yard TD drive with just over a minute left in the game to secure the Vandal's first win of the year.
Congrats to the entire team on an outstanding 35-31 road victory!
Official Site Write-Up with Stats
NMSU Write-Up and Stats
ESPN Write-Up and Box Score
Las Cruces Sun-News Article
Idaho Stateman Article
El Paso Times Article
Throughout the first half, and half way through the third quarter, this game looked like it was shaping up for an ugly, ugly loss. The offense was moving for the most part in the first half, but 3 drives stalled (one deep in NMSU territory) with 3 interceptions. At the same time, the Aggies were carving up the Vandal defense to the tune of a 21-0 halftime lead, and 28-0 at the 6 minute mark of the third quarter.
Then, something clicked for Idaho.
Brian Lindgren would lead the offense on a tear in the last quarter and a half, throwing 5 touchdown passes and amassing 408 yards while completing 27 of 38 passes and 3 picks in the first half. After drawing the game to 31-28, Idaho kicked off to NMSU with 6:31 left in the game. The Aggies took that kickoff on a long, methodical drive down to the Idaho 11 yard line. On 3rd and short with just over a minute left in the game, the Aggie's Tony Joseph took the hand off and pounded into the pile. He got the necessary first down yardage, then while spinning for more was hammered by Idaho middle linebacker Mike Anderson. The ball squirted free, and defensive end Kody Kraus pounced on it.
Idaho had just received the mother of all breaks.
Idaho ball......96 yards to go........1 minute, 7 seconds left in the ball game.
On what would be a 5-play drive Brian connected with tightend Mike McCoy for gains of 22 and 47 yards. He then hooked up with redshirt freshman wide receiver Wendell Octave for an 18 yard gain at the NMSU 7. On the final play of the drive, Brian found sophomore receiver Jeff Stowe in the endzone and, in Brian's own words after the game, threw the ball a little high ("about 3 feet over his head"), but Jeff was able to leap up and make the grab.
In the span of less than a minute, Idaho had gone from 3 points down, to 3 points up. Redshirt freshman kicker Mike Barrow came in to kick the extra point, making it a 4 point game and forcing the Aggies to drive the length of the field for a touchdown. Senior kickoff specialist Brian Pope drove the kick through the endzone (one of several kickoffs that sailed through the endzone), and Ags took over at their own 20. In 2 plays they were able to make some yards, including a play that involved a few laterals. But they could not make it to the endzone.
End of ball game. Start of celebration.
It was fortunate for Idaho that Anderson's hit forced the Aggies to fumble when they seemingly had the game in hand. But it was an outstanding effort by the Vandals (coaches and players) to draw the game to within 31-28 in the fourth quarter, when the team could have easily folded down 28-0 in the 3rd quarter. It was focus that led Idaho to commit only 3 penalties in the game. It was concentration that allowed the Vandal receivers to make catches that in weeks past were dropped. And although fortune gave them the ball with a minute left, it was their effort that drove them 96 yards, in 5 well-executed plays, in less than a minute, to WIN the game.
There's an old saying: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Well, that came true tonight.
Enjoy the ride home guys, you earned it!
Outstanding individual efforts were logged by McCoy (5 receptions for 116 yards), Jimmy Labita (6 receptions, 96 yards), Octave (5 receptions for 88 yards), Stowe (5 receptions, 71 yards), and fullback Brian Yarno's first TD reception of the year. Zach Gerstner of course credited the line during the post-game interview (the line gave up just 1 sack as well), but he had a career day with 159 yards on 22 carries. The offense racked up 550 total yards.
Defensively, Idaho was led by Mike Anderson's 12.5 tackles and timely forced fumble at the end of the game. Sophomore Kelly Talavou led the DL with 5 tackles. Overall, the unit clamped down in the second half with solid adjustments and improved tackling.
On special teams, Ryan Downes averaged 46 yards per punt (long of 53), redshirt freshman kicker Mike Barrow was perfect on PATs, and kickoff specialist Brian Pope did a great job giving their return teams nothing to run back, especially in the second half.
Up next is a Homecoming date with a tough customer in the University of North Texas. The Mean Green have been playing outstanding defense for years, and the same holds true now. They also have a pretty good offense going as well, and notched a home win earlier this year over Baylor, which beat Colorado this weekend. And, more importantly, they haven't lost a Conference game in years, having represented the SBC in the New Orleans Bowl each of the last 2 years.
This preseason NMSU was expected to compete for the Conference crown. UNT is clearly the team to beat (with Arkansas State looking solid as well).
Now the Vandals have positioned themselves to make some noise. Its been awhile since we've been in the thick of a Conference race, and a win this weekend could go a long way towards getting our school there. The team will need every advantage they can get Saturday, and a raucous Dome would be a really good place to start.
Make the trek to Moscow this Saturday, and Get in the Game!