By Julian Martinez
The Aggies came into this game with the nation’s longest losing streak, sitting at an unsightly 12 games. That, however, was not the losing streak that probably stuck out the most to the Aggies and their fans. The New Mexico State football program lost seven times to the University of Texas – El Paso.
Doug Martin had a stern message coming into the supposed rivalry game: “It’s not a rivalry until we start winning and we haven’t won in seven years.”
The Aggies wore special helmets with the Zia symbol, with blessings from the Zia Pueblo. Early on in this game it would give the team good fortune. A dominating drive from Larry Rose III culminated with Rose punching it in from four yards out, to give the Aggies their first lead of the season.
Unfortunately, the Aggies kicking struggles carried over early on as Parker Davidson missed his fourth extra point of the season, leading all NCAA Division-1 kickers.
A big story for the Miners early on was how their offense would react with the loss of star running back Aaron Jones. Several running backs got the opportunity to tote the football out of their backfield early on, but it was LaQuintus Dowell that give the Aggies’s run defense difficulty. Dowell, who hasn’t played at running back in over two years, broke off a big 40-yard run, breaking through a couple arm tackles to put UTEP back ahead 7-6.
Tyler Rogers was the difference maker on the next drive, using a combination of his legs and throwing arm to give the Aggies their lead back. He located Teldrick Morgan for a 49-yard reception that would push the Aggies into the redzone. From there Rogers rolled out of the pocket to scramble for a 10-yard touchdown, giving the Aggies the 13-7 advantage.
UTEP was forced to punt on their next possession, but it would work to their advantage as the punt was downed at the NMSU two-yard line. Seeing the Aggies backed against their own goal line, the Miners decided to send a blitz.
The pressure on Rogers caused him to make an errant throw to a receiver who simply was not there. Per NCAA rules, intentional grounding in your own endzone results in a safety. Following the corresponding punt, the first quarter would come to a close with the Aggies holding a 13-9 first quarter lead.
The second quarter was a lot more quiet as following the change of quarter the UTEP Miners punted the ball away, the first of five consecutive possessions that would result in a punt for them. NMSU’s only score of the quarter would come off Davidson’s first successful field goal of the year from 38-yards out. The Aggies led at the half 16-9, the first time they’ve lead UTEP at a half since 2011.
On the first drive of the second half, perhaps the biggest x-factor in the game took place. In an attempt to rush up the middle, UTEP Quarterback Mack Leftwich took a huge hit from linebacker Derek Ibekwe, causing not only a fumble but injuring Leftwich, who would not see another snap in this game.
Metz was greeted kindly by Jacob Nwangwa, who took his first pass attempt to the house on a pick six that would give the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 23-9.
It was only three plays before Darrin Laufasa brought the Miners a score on a big 66-yard touchdown run. Yet the Aggies only needed two plays to counter on offense. Rogers hit Morgan for a 78-yard catch and run, and then found Gregory Hogan in the endzone for an eight-yard score.
This game quickly turned into a scoring bananza. UTEP began the fourth quarter with Metz connecting with Autrey Golden on a 26-yard pass play. NMSU got the ball back, but the UTEP defense forced a three and out. Then on the next play, off of an Anthony Torres linedrive punt, Jaquan White found the corner and returned the ball for a 64-yard touchdown to tie the game at 33.
It would have been very easy for the Aggies to have gotten down on themselves, but instead they drove 95-yards on two plays to put themselves back on top. The drive was due in part to a 82-yard run by Rose III and then was followed by another Rogers touchdown, this time to Tyrain Taylor. UTEP punted on their next possession, giving the Aggies a chance to put a nail in the coffin.
Another long drive by the Aggies resulted in another Rogers touchdown, his third of the evening, with Teldrick Morgan getting open on what would be a 19-yard touchdown. Many fans saw this as the score that would end the Aggies’ woes against UTEP and bring this prolonged losing streak to an end, but Metz and company were having none of it.
With 4:07 left on the clock, the UTEP offense took over with the score sitting at 44-30. Metz, the freshman from Andress High School, displayed a big arm and quality decision-making as he began the comeback. The Miners covered 75-yards in a mere 0:59 seconds to get within striking distance of the Aggies on a 48-yard touchdown from Metz to Cole Freytag.
The Aggies’ next possession was pivotal as a first down would probably put the game on ice, but unfortunately that didn’t happen for the Aggies, as they were forced to punt following a three and out. Metz took over with 2:01 left in regulation and 98-yards of field left to cover following an outstanding punt by Torres.
The UTEP offense successfully took on the challenge. Metz picked apart the Aggie secondary on his way down field. With almost surgeon-like precision and displaying skills not typical of a freshman, he was able to take the Miners down to the Aggie five in a little over a minute of play.
Then the comeback was completed on a simple quarterback draw play that allowed Metz to score from eight yards out. The score was tied at 44 following an unsuccessful drive by the Aggies to end the fourth.
There was an unbelievable combined 42-points scored in the fourth quarter.
The Aggies got the first opportunity in the first-ever overtime game in the more than 90-year history of the Battle of I-10. The Aggies could not move the ball, though, as UTEP was able to get great penetration and stop plays before they developed in the Aggie backfield.
The game once again teetered on Davidson’s kicking leg as he lined up from 44 yards out. The crowd was able to breathe a sigh of relief as Davidson nailed the kick and gave his team a 47-44 advantage.
However, UTEP would get the ball back per college football overtime rules, and Metz would come through again for them. In what may have felt like a punch to gut to many of the Aggie-faithful, who stayed throughout the game’s entirety, Metz delivered the game winning score to Cedrick Lang and the Miners proceeded to storm the field. The final score was 50-47 in favor of the Miners, who claimed their eight straight victory against the Aggies.
“We played hard and stood toe-to toe-with them, but we have to learn how to finish and to win,” says NMSU Head Coach Doug Martin. “I’m really proud of our kids, we’ve come a long way to close the gap like we have on everybody so far. We haven’t been close to UTEP in the last few years and we certainly had our chances to win the football game.”
The standout performer of the game for the Aggies is undoubtedly Rose III, who ran the ball for 186-yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown. Metz finished 15/19 on his pass attempts, with 218-yards and three passing touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown.
The Aggies will have a bye week before going to Albuquerque to face the University of New Mexico.
“We’re going to prepare well,” says Rose III regarding preparation for this next match. “We will go into the game with the same mindset we went into this game (against UTEP) with. We feel like we can win and it’s no time to press the panic button. We’re only three games in.”
The 106th installment of the Rio Grande Rivalry will take place October 3, 2015, at 6 p.m. in University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.