LAS CRUCES, N.M. –The New Mexico State University football team fell to 0-7 on the season after losing to Rice, 45-19, inside Aggie Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
The Aggies finished with 328 total yards on the night, including 168 through the air and 160 on the ground.
Freshman quarterback King Davis III made his second-career start for NM State, but unfortunately did not finish the game due to injury. Davis III did finish the night, however, leading the Aggies with 113 passing yards and one touchdown on 6-of-14 passing.
Junior running back Brandon Betancourt marked his second-consecutive 100-yard rushing game for NM State, finishing with 103 yards on 17 carries to lead the Aggies. Junior wide receiver Austin Franklin, meanwhile, led NM State with three catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive end, senior defensive back George Callender and redshirt sophomore linebacker Stephen Meredith each finished with nine total tackles to lead the Aggies. Senior safety Davis Cazares wasn’t far behind, finishing with eight total tackles.
The Aggies fell in a hole early as Rice scored a touchdown on its first two possessions to take an early 14-0 lead.
NM State’s second possession began with a 15-yard run by Betancourt to move the ball to the Aggie 40-yard line. After a 1-yard loss by Betancourt, NM State moved into Owl territory for the first time in the ball game on a 36-yard keeper by Davis III that placed the ball at the Rice 25-yard line.
The Aggies could not convert on an ensuing third down, however, and settled for a 37-yard field goal by junior Maxwell Johnson to cut the Owl lead to 14-3 with 5:45 left in the first quarter.
With a little momentum on its side, the NM State defense forced a Rice fumble which was recovered by Meredith at the NM State 34-yard line. It was Meredith’s first-career fumble recovery. Unfortunately, the Aggie offense could do nothing with the turnover and had to punt after a three-and-out.
NM State’s defense forced a Rice punt for the first time in the game on the Owl’s next possession. Rice got the ball right back, however, as Aggie punt returner Darien Johnson muffed the punt and the Owls recovered the fumble at the NM State 28-yard line.
It took Rice only three plays and 36 seconds to convert the turnover into points, scoring its third rushing touchdown on the final play of the first quarter to extend its lead to 21-3.
Down 18, the Aggies started mounting a comeback in the second quarter.
NM State’s next possession was highlighted by a 36-yard run by Betancourt up the middle. The drive resulted in another field goal by Johnson, this time from 49 yards away, to cut the lead to 21-6. It would be Johnson’s career-best conversion.
After the Aggie defense forced another punt, NM State doubled its point total when Davis III hit Franklin down the left sideline on an 85-yard touchdown pass. The play was the longest-career touchdown pass and catch for Davis III and Franklin respectively. The extra point was mishandled by the holder and eventually blocked by Rice. The Aggies now trailed by only nine, 21-12, midway through the second quarter.
A touchdown by Rice with just over a minute left in the half gave the Owls a 28-12 halftime lead.
The Aggies finished the first half with 214 total yards to Rice’s 323. Davis III finished the half with 104 passing yards on 5-of-10 passing and one touchdown pass.
Betancourt had eight rushing attempts in the first half for 60 yards while Franklin had two catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Cazares, meanwhile, had eight-total first half tackles including four solo and four assisted.
The first half of the third quarter was marked by good defense and punts by both teams. NM State’s defense stopped the Owls on a third down at the Aggie 46-yard line to seemingly force another punt. A late hit by NM State junior Jay Easkings, however, kept the Rice drive alive.
The Owls would capitalize on the Aggie mistake with a 1-yard touchdown run to increase their lead to 35-12.
A couple of plays into NM State’s ensuing drive, Davis III would be injured on a running play. Senior quarterback Andrew McDonald would replace Davis III and lead the Aggies down the field on an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
McDonald would punctuate the drive himself by scoring on a 2-yard rush, his second rushing touchdown on the season. The Aggie score would cut the lead to 35-19 with 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
NM State and McDonald could not maintain their momentum, however, in the fourth quarter. Rice scored the only points of the final quarter, 10, and McDonald threw a couple of interceptions on pass attempts to Franklin.
The Aggies now look forward to their homecoming game against Abilene Christian next Saturday night, Oct. 26, inside Aggie Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. (MT) in Las Cruces.