LBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico outscored ACU 24-7 in the second half Saturday night and the Lobos turned three Wildcat turnovers into 10 points as they knocked off ACU, 38-14, in the season-opener for both teams in front of 21,475 fans at Branch Field at Dreamstyle Stadium.
The Wildcats (0-1) trailed just 14-7 at halftime and took the opening drive of the second half into scoring position before coming up empty. The Lobos (1-0) scored 10 third-quarter points and finished off the Wildcats with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns – including a 91-yard interception return for a score by Jake Rothschiller – to turn a close game into a 24-point finish.
The Lobos – who led the nation in rushing yards per game last year at 350.0 yards per game – ran for 259 yards against the Wildcats, but also threw for 222 or 115 yards more than what they averaged through the air in 2016. The Wildcats dominated time of possession (33:39 to just 26:21 for the Lobos) and ran 76 plays to just 58 for the Lobos.
But the Wildcats couldn’t sustain their first-half momentum in the second half as the Lobos turned a fumble recovered inside ACU’s 20 into a touchdown and then scored on the long interception return, sealing the win.
Here’s a recap of Saturday night’s season-opener:
The Lobos moved smartly on their first drive of the game and quickly moved inside the ACU 5-yard line before stalling and eventually facing fourth-and-goal at the ACU 3-yard line. But Richard McQuarley was stopped by Dante Hibbert at the 1-yard line, snuffing the drive short of the end zone and turning the ball over to the Wildcats.
ACU responded with a 99-yard scoring drive that saw junior QB Dallas Sealey (Chickasaw Nation) complete 8 of 10 passes and convert two third-down plays into first downs on the drive. Sealey’s final completion on the drive was a 36-yard touchdown pass to Carl Whitley, who took a pass from Sealey on a slip screen and outraced the UNM defense to the corner of the end zone to give ACU a 7-0 lead.
The Lobos, however, wasted little time getting the game tied as they moved 71 yards on just five plays to a 4-yard touchdown run by Daryl Chestnut, the first of his ___ scores in the game. The drive was sparked by a 27-yard pass from Lamar Jordan to Chris Davis on the first play of the drive.
ACU mustered just 78 yards of offense in the second quarter, but the defense kept the Wildcats in the game with three sacks in the second quarter, two of them by sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Chambers.
The only score of the quarter came on a 4-yard run by Tyrone Owens with 11:20 left in the second quarter, capping a three-play, 66-yard scoring drive. The Lobos – who had 284 yards of offense in the first half to 183 for the Wildcats – led 14-7 at halftime.
The Wildcats opened the second half with the ball and took advantage of a personal foul on punter Simon Laryea to keep its opening drive alive. A couple of plays after UNM was whistled for the personal foul, it looked as though the Wildcats had tied the game with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Troy Grant. However, the ball slipped out of Grant’s arms as he fell into the end zone, resulting in an incomplete pass.
On the next play, the snap from center went over the head of Sealey and De’Andre Brown recovered it at the ACU 40-yard line for a 26-yard loss. A couple of plays later, Laryea was forced to punt and his punt dropped at the UNM 25-yard line.
The Lobos moved smartly, going 75 yards on eight plays to a 54-yard scoring run by Chestnut, giving UNM a 21-7 lead with 6:04 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats went nowhere on their next drive, and on third-and-eight, Sealey was sacked and he fumbled, turning the ball over to the Lobos at the ACU 20-yard line. The Lobos moved to the ACU 7-yard line before Jason Sanders booted a 25-yard field goal to give the Lobos a 24-7 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
The Lobos added a pair of scores in the fourth quarter, the first coming on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jordan to Jay Griffin IV and the other coming on a back-breaking interception return. The touchdown pass to Griffin came with 13:57 left in the game and pushed the Lobos’ lead to 31-7.
On ACU’s ensuing possession, the Wildcats were forced to punt, but Tracy James forced a fumble that was recovered by Bryce Baccarini at the UNM 6-yard line. But on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Sealey’s pass was intercepted by Jake Rothschiller and returned 91 yards for a touchdown to give the Lobos a 38-7 lead with 11:06 left in the game.
The Wildcats’ second team offensive unit entered the game in the final minutes and got ACU’s final touchdown as backup quarterback Luke Anthony hit Hunter Lees with a 34-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the contest.