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New Mexico State outguns Wolf Pack

BY DARRELL MOODY

Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

RENO” Defenses decided to take the day off Saturday and New Mexico State had a little more offensive firepower than Nevada.

The Aggies shredded Nevada’s pass defense for 409 yards en route to a 48-45 win in a Western Athletic Conference game Saturday before a crowd of 12,425 at Mackay Stadium.

The loss dropped Nevada to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in conference. NMSU improved to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in conference.

New Mexico State only outgained Nevada 513-507, but it was the Aggies’ ability to extend drives that was the difference. NMSU converted 7-of -16 third-down and 3-of-3 fourth-down conversions. On the three fourth-down conversions, the Aggies totaled 83 yards and scored on two of those possessions.

“I’m very disappointed,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “I’m not sure we deserved to win playing that kind of ball. Our defense was simply non-existent. The offense played well under the circumstances.

“It was ridiculous (the third and fourth-down conversions). (The Aggies) did a nice job. It was nothing we hadn’t seen. We didn’t make plays defensively. The thing that hurt most were the third downs. One was 21, one was 14 (23) and another was 16 or 17 (11) and they were (wide) open.”

Ault admitted after the game that he was going to take a look at the defensive side of the ball, which could spell changes for next week’s game against Utah State.

“We’ll look at personnel and what we’re trying to do with it,” Ault said.

Ault said that the Aggies did a good job of picking up on what Nevada was doing and what the unit couldn’t do because of personnel.

Despite the shortcomings of the defense, turnovers by the Pack special teams and offense turned the momentum in the Aggies’ favor.

Nevada had just taken a 31-28 lead with 9 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter after quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Vai Taua, who scored a career-high four touchdowns.

The Wolf Pack, for one of the few times all game, forced the Aggies to punt. Kyle Hughes lofted a punt which Jon Amaya fumbled and NMSU’s Boyblue Aoelua recovered at the Nevada 20.

The defense made a nice stand on third down, as Kevin Basped threw Marquell Colston for a 4-yard loss on second down. Following an incomplete pass, New Mexico State’s Hughes kicked a 29-yard field goal, tying the game at 31.

“Just fair catch, that’s all you do,” Ault said. “He had Antoine (Thompson) telling him to fair catch it. Jon doesn’t drop balls, but he did this time.”

It appeared that Nevada would bounce right back.

A 23-yard completion from Kaepernick (15-of-26 for 194 yards) to Marko Mitchell (5 catches, 97 yards) and a 25-yard run by Taua (who had a career-high 188 yards rushing) gave the Pack a first down at the NMSU 17.

Disaster struck on the next play when Kaepernick bobbled a snap, and Aggie defensive end Oren Long picked it up and rambled 83 yards for a score. Hughes’ PAT made it 38-31 with 5:20 left.

“The ball went through my hands,” said Kaepernick, who had a nice game despite the fumble. “That was the turning point. We should have taken the ball to the end zone. It was a bad play by me and it cost us the game. I felt like I let the whole team down. I won’t let that happen again.”

It was Long’s first career touchdown at NMSU.

“I saw the ball on the ground and made a big play for the defense,” he said. “It was big. It took the fans out of the game. It got our offense ready to roll.”

Ault said the 13-point turnaround was critical and would be difficult to come back against.

Nevada did bounce back to tie the game at 38 with 51 seconds left in the third quarter when Taua caught a 16-yard pass from Kaepernick. Brett Jaekle added the extra point.

The touchdown was set up by Mo Harvey’s third interception of the season. Harvey picked off Chase Holbrook’s pass at the 34 and returned it 20 yards to the 14.

“I was telling Uche (Anyanwu) and (Jon) Amaya on the sidelines that we needed to make a big play, and that I was going to make it,” Harvey said. “I read the quarterback’s eyes and came up with the big play.”

The Aggies scored on their next two possessions ” a 7-yard TD pass to Marcus Anderson and a 19-yard field goal by Hughes gave the Aggies a 48-38 lead with 6:27 remaining.

Nevada drove 77 yards on its next possession to cut the lead to 48-45, a drive capped by Kaepernick’s 19-yard pass to Chris Wellington with 3:51 left.

Nevada was unable to get the ball back, as the Aggies converted two third downs. The second one was especially agonizing as the Pack appeared to have Colston stopped short of a first down on a third-and-4 play, but he slipped a tackle and gained seven yards.

The first half was just as entertaining as the final two quarters. Of the 10 full combined possessions in the first half, seven resulted in either a touchdown or field goal. The teams combined for 536 yards overall and the lead changed hands five times.

Nevada took the opening kickoff and drove 64 yards in five plays with Kaepernick covering the final 32 yards on a option-read play. That would be his big rush for the day. On his remaining 11 rushes, he gained just 22 yards. It was apparent that the Aggies defense wasn’t going to let the long-legged QB beat them.

“It was a ‘pick your poison’ game and we picked (Nevada quarterback) Colin Kaepernick,” NMSU coach Hal Mumme said.

From there, the teams exchanged scores. The biggest lead in the first half was four points, 21-17, when Colston caught a 17-yard pass from Holbrook with 6:30 remaining in the half.

Nevada jumped back ahead 24-21 on Taua’s 3-yard run which capped the nine-play 77-yard drive. Mitchell had catches of 23 and 14 yards on the series.

The Aggies had a chance to tie or go ahead on the last drive of the half, but came away empty when Hughes missed a 22-yard chip shot.

That set the stage for a wild second half, as New Mexico State continued to exploit Nevada’s deficiencies on defense and won for just the second time in 12 games against Nevada.

“I don’t know what it was, we were just really lucky,” said Holbrook, who went over the 10,000-yard career mark during the game. “We got a lot of talented playmakers.”

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or calling (775) 881-1281