LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Dec. 3) - The New Mexico State football team fought visiting Utah State to the wire 24-21 in the Aggies' final game of the season at Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon.
A late scoring drive by Utah State put the visiting Aggies up by three with 35 seconds to go. NM State recovered a USU on-side kick at its own 36-yard line. But on the next play from scrimmage, NM State quarterback Matt Christian was picked off on a long pass by Utah State's Nevin Lawson at the USU 30-yard line. Utah State ran out the rest of the clock to secure the win.
Christian finished the game 17-of-40 for 252 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions for the Aggies. He also rushed for 48 yards including a 17-yard score. Taveon Rogers led the receiving corps with six receptions for 73 yards. Running back Kenny Turner gained 65 yards to lead the ground attack and scored a 3-yard touchdown in the second half.
In his last home game, strong safety Donyae Coleman led the five NM State seniors with double-digit tackling efforts in their final game. Coleman compiled 23 stops, one shy of his career high set against Nevada earlier this season. Fellow seniors David Niumatalolo (17) and Ben Bradley (14) also posted career highs in tackles. Classmate Boyblue Aoelua notched a season high 12 stops and senior Courtney Viney added 11.
NM State finishes the year at 4-9 while Utah State improves to 7-5 this season.
Utah State opened the second half on offense but a hit by Bradley jostled the ball loose from USU's Kennedy at midfield. Niumatalolo recovered the ball at the Aggies' 49-yard line with 13:32 left in the third quarter.
On the next play, Christian launched a 51-yard touchdown pass to Kemonte' Bateman to tie the score at 14-14 with 13:22 left in the third. Neither offense could string together a drive of more than six plays the rest of the quarter as the scoreboard showed 14-14 at the end of three.
Utah State ate up the first 5:14 of the clock in the fourth on a 15-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Josh Thompson to put USU up 17-14 with 9:46 left in the game.
On the ensuing drive, NM State started at its own 34 but two big rushes by Christian and Todd Lee moved the Aggies to the USU 18-yard line. Utah State was whistled for a pass interference penalty in the end zone, rewarding the Aggies with an automatic first down near the goal line.
Turner scored his first touchdown in three games on a 3-yard rush up the gut of the Utah State defense to give NM State its first lead of the game at 21-17 with 8:29 remaining.
On Utah State's final scoring drive of the game the blue Aggies rushed the ball 12 straight times to move into the red zone. USU's quarterback Andy Kennedy then threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Matt Austin from eight yards out for their second scoring connection of the game at the 35-second mark.
The NM State defense came up big in the first quarter, halting two Utah State drives inside the Aggie 10-yard line on downs after a pair of stops on USU fourth-and-one attempts. USU put together the first sustained drive of the game midway thru the quarter but NM State held the visiting Aggies on fourth-and-one from the 8-yard line. After an NM State punt, the USU offense drove inside the 10-yard line on its next drive but stalled out at the 3-yard line on fourth-and-one.
After a scoreless first quarter, NM State cornerback Jonte Green snagged his second career interception to open the second stanza. Green picking off a long pass attempt by Kennedy at the NM State 11-yard line.
The Crimson and White opened the drive with three complete passes by Christian to move the Aggies into Utah State territory. But a few plays later, USU forced a fumble by Turner and recovered the ball on the NM State 32-yard line.
Utah State capitalized on the turnover, driving 68 yards in nine plays to open the scoring. Kennedy connected with running back Robert Turbin with on a 21-yard touchdown pass to give Utah State the lead, 7-0, with 8:52 left before intermission.
NM State quickly responded on offense. A 23-yard pass play from Christian to running back Robert Clay helped set up the Aggies first score of the game. A few plays later, Christian scrambled 17 yards on the keeper for the score to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:43 left in the half.
The scoring drives continued as Utah State used almost five minutes of game clock to drive 68 yards in 11plays. Kennedy's pass to wide receiver Matt Austin accounted for the score to put USU up 14-7 with 1:34 remaining.
The home Aggies had a chance to score on its final drive of the half. The NM State offense drove 70 yards to the Utah State 1-yard line, but Christian was picked off near the goal line by USU's Kyle Gallagher to keep the score at 14-7 at the half.
Christian led the NM State passing attack with 11-of-26 passing with 123 yards and an interception. He also rushed for 38 yards in the half including a 17-yard touchdown run. Taveon Rogers led the receiving corps with three receptions for 34 yards. Turner gained 59 yards on the ground in the first half on nine carries. Defensively, strong safety Donyae Coleman led the Aggies with 10 tackles while David Niumatalolo added nine.