The Lobos got off to their best start of the season on Saturday afternoon by scoring touchdowns on each of their first four possessions. On the defensive front, the Lobos intercepted a season-high three passes and recovered a fumble, effectively ending two unfortunate streaks with a resounding 42-21 victory over the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors, who were visiting. This triumph elevated UNM’s season record to 3-4, with a conference standing of 1-2, while Hawai’i’s season record dipped to 2-6, with a winless 0-3 record in the Mountain West.
The game marked the onset of several noteworthy occurrences, commencing with the opening coin toss, where UNM secured the toss and uncharacteristically deferred their choice to the second half. This decision was the first of its kind during Danny Gonzales’ four-year tenure as head coach and was implemented to disrupt the pattern of lackluster third quarters, which it achieved with perfection.
The initial half of the game transpired seamlessly. UNM’s defense swiftly forced a three-and-out, setting the stage for Dylan Hopkins and his team to embark on a seven-play drive that culminated in a flawless 28-yard touchdown pass from Hopkins to Jeremiah Hixon. This play marked one of three touchdown passes for Hopkins and one of two TD receptions for Hixon.
In the following series, UNM’s defense achieved another three-and-out, with Zach Morris intercepting a Brayden Schager pass, marking UNM’s first interception of the year. A pivotal third-down conversion, executed by one of the five N.M. Gatorade Players of the Year on the team, Zach Vigil, was instrumental in setting up a 3-yard touchdown catch by Ryan Davis, further extending UNM’s lead to 14-0.
Hawai’i responded with a Steven McBride touchdown, but UNM’s offense continued to make significant strides. Early in the second quarter, Jacory Croskey-Merritt scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns, granting UNM a 21-7 advantage. Although Hawai’i advanced to the Lobo 29-yard line with second-and-three, Gabriel Lopez’s sack on Schager and a forced fumble concluded that drive.
This allowed UNM to embark on their fourth drive of the half, culminating in yet another touchdown. Despite facing a first-and-25 at the Hawai’i 33-yard line after a hands-to-the-face penalty, Andrew Henry raced for a 33-yard touchdown, marking his first as a Lobo and contributing to his inaugural 100-yard performance with UNM, totaling 114 yards.
Hawai’i managed to score late in the half, reducing the deficit to 28-14, and UNM concluded the half with a single play, the only drive they failed to score on, with just 24 seconds remaining. UNM began the second half with possession and quickly dispelled any concerns about the previous week’s subpar second-half performance against San Jose State.
The ensuing drive consisted of 12 plays and appeared to stall at the Hawai’i 30-yard line when UNM faced a third-and-11. However, Hopkins found DJ Washington for a 10-yard gain, and UNM successfully converted a fourth-and-1 as Croskey-Merritt powered through for three yards. On the subsequent play, Hopkins connected with Hixon once more, this time from 17 yards out, effectively dispelling any remaining suspense.
UNM extended their lead to 42-14 in the fourth quarter with Croskey-Merritt’s second rushing touchdown. Only a late touchdown with just six seconds remaining marred an otherwise near-perfect half for UNM. On three separate occasions in the second half, UNM’s defense made pivotal stops, with Jermarius Lewis playing a crucial role in three consecutive takeaways. First, on a fourth-and-3 from the Lobo 14, Lewis sacked Schager and forced a fumble, which UNM promptly recovered. On the subsequent two drives, Lewis intercepted Schager in the end zone, thwarting the opposition’s advances.