The Lobos overcame a sluggish first half to defeat Abilene Christian 38-14 before 21,475 fans a DreamStyle stadium on Saturday night.
UNM running back Daryl Chestnut scored two touchdowns on the ground, and quarterback Lamar Jordan threw for a career-high 213 yards to lead the Lobos in an unusually balanced offensive attack. The balanced attack was used more out of necessity than design, as the Wildcats limited the Lobos on the ground for most of the first half, forcing Jordan to attack the defense through the air.
Despite entering the contest as underdogs with a first-year head coach, Abilene Christian, an FCS school coming off a disappointing two-win season in 2016, started the game off with an impressive 99-yard drive on the opening possession of the game.
Quarterback Dallas Sealey hit Carl Whitley for a 36-yard TD pass to cap the long and methodical drive to start the game. It was the only TD pass in the game for Sealey and the only points the Wildcats would score in the first half. Whitley and Sealey would connect three more times in the game, but the young UNM defense held the Wildcats scoreless until the final minutes of regulation.
“I thought we got better but we were a little cautious early,” Lobos coach Bob Davie said of his defense. “We didn’t really trigger, kind of played off them too much, gave them too much credit. Once we got our feet on the ground, we got a little more confidence. Particularly the way that game started off, I give them credit. They didn’t run the ball, they really didn’t try to run the ball but they kept us off balance all night.”
Running back Tyrone Owens punched in a four-yard touchdown run with 11:20 left in the second quarter to give the Lobos a 14-7 lead. It would end up being the final score of either team in the first half, with the Lobos entering the break with a tenuous 14-7 lead before a reserved and worried crowd.
A 54-yard TD scamper by Daryl Chestnut and subsequent Jason Sanders field goal extended the UNM lead to 17 in the third quarter, as the UNM defense took control of the game by limiting the Wildcats to just 99 yards of season-half offense.
“They don’t want to throw the ball, and if you force someone into doing something they don’t want to do, and they beat you, then you tip your hat to them,” continued Davie. “We did some good things defensively, but we have things that we have to clean up moving forward.”
It was a decisive win for UNM in a game they most certainly should win, but Davie and the coaching staff know they have many areas to improve on going forward, especially their vaunted ground attack that was stifled by a Division II team at home.
The Lobos will look to get back to their rushing dominance when their host in-state rival New Mexico State on 9/9 at DreamStyle Stadium. Fresh off a 37-31 loss to Arizona State, the Aggies will present a much harder challenge for UNM.