LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The New Mexico State football team finished off the 2013 season by holding off the Idaho Vandals, 24-16, in Aggie Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Aggies finish the season with a 2-10 record while the Vandals finish at 1-11.
NM State would score 17 of the final 20 points in the game, including outscoring Idaho 14-3 in the second half, to claim its second victory of the season. The defense would pace the Aggies, claiming an interception, turnover on downs and a stop in the end zone as time expired during Idaho’s final three possessions.
On the offensive side, senior quarterback Andrew McDonald finished 17-of-27 for 186 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Senior running back Germi Morrison had his second 100-yard game of the season, and third of his career, after finishing with 111 rushing yards on 17 carries.
Junior wide out Austin Franklin once again led the Aggie receiving core, this time with six catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow junior Adam Shapiro added four catches for 62 yards.
The Aggie defense, which played one of its strongest games of the season, was led by senior linebacker Trashaun Nixon who had 12 total tackles, half a sack and a forced fumble. Senior Davis Cazares also had double-digit tackles, finishing with 11, while senior Bryan Bonilla added eight tackles.
The teams traded punts during the first four drives of the game. The Vandals’ second punt of the day pinned the Aggies on their own five-yard line.
McDonald quickly got NM State out of trouble, however, as the Aggie quarterback scrambled for 28 yards on the first play of the drive. Later in the drive, McDonald hit junior wide receiver Joseph Mathews, who had gotten free down the middle, for a 27-yard pass play that took the ball to the Idaho 29-yard line.
A couple of plays later, McDonald hit Franklin down the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown pass, Franklin’s 18th-career touchdown catch. The first score of the game gave NM State a 7-0 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter. It took the Aggies eight plays and just over three minutes to cover the 95 yards.
The Vandals would tie the game at seven on the second play of the second quarter after a 56-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Davis to tight end Michael LaGrone.
During Idaho’s next drive, NM State seemed to force a Vandal punt for the fourth time in five drives, but Idaho punter Austin Rehkow ran 40 yards down the field on a fake punt to place the ball on the Aggie 25-yard line.
The Vandals would convert the executed fake punt into points after Rehkow, who also handles the field goals for Idaho, kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the Vandals a 10-7 lead with 7:34 left in the first half.
On the ensuing NM State drive, McDonald would be stripped of the ball after attempting a long pass play. Idaho would recover the fumble at the Aggie 11-yard line.
NM State’s defense would once again hold the Vandals to a Rehkow field goal. The three points extended the Idaho lead to 13-7 with just under five minutes left in the half.
The Aggies would turn the ball over during their next two possessions, but the NM State defense would continue to keep its team in the ball game.
After a McDonald interception, the Aggie defense got the ball right back when Nixon forced a fumble at the Idaho 45-yard line which NM State cornerback Lewis Hill recovered at the Aggie 49-yard line.
Following another Aggie turnover, the defense would stop the Vandals on fourth-and-three from the Aggie 26-yard line to give the ball back to NM State with 1:48 left in the half.
The Aggies would proceed to go 55 yards on eight plays to set up a 36-yard field goal by Maxwell Johnson with 13 seconds left in the half. Johnson’s 16th-consecutive field goal conversion cut the Idaho lead to 13-10 at halftime.
McDonald finished the first half by completing 10-of-19 passes for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Morrison led the ground attack with 44 yards on seven carries while Franklin had three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
The defensive effort was led by Nixon who had seven total tackles in the first half while Cazares and Bonilla added five apiece.
NM State regained the lead during its first possession of the second half. After forcing an Idaho three-and-out, the Aggies proceeded to go on a nine-play, 73-yard scoring drive. The drive was highlighted early by a 38-yard pass play from McDonald to Shapiro on a second-and-20, highlighted late by a 20-yard run by Morrison up the middle to put the ball on the Vandal 9-yard line and capped off by the second McDonald to Franklin touchdown connection of the day, this time from seven yards out. The touchdown gave the Aggies a 17-13 lead with 9:21 left in the third quarter.
Idaho would answer with Rehkow’s second 25-yard field goal of the day to cut the NM State lead to one at 17-16 with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Aggies made it two touchdowns in two second-half drives after driving 75 yards on 14 plays during their next possession. Shapiro extended the lead to 24-16 after he scored on a reverse handoff during the second play of the final quarter. It was Shapiro’s second rushing touchdown of the season, both on the reverse play. NM State would go 4-for-4 on third-down conversions during the drive.
With the Vandals driving and in the red zone on their next possession, the Aggie defense once again came up with a big play. NM State senior defensive back Darien Johnson intercepted his first-career pass as an Aggie. The interception came on a pass into the end zone by Idaho, giving the ball to NM State on its own 20-yard line with 10:48 left in the game.
On the Vandals next possession, the Aggies stopped a fourth-and-5 attempt on the Idaho 45-yard line to get the ball back with 5:08 remaining and an eight-point lead.
A 45-yard field goal attempt by Johnson to give NM State a two-possession lead was blocked, giving life to the Vandals with 1:30 left in the game.
Idaho would drive down the field and had four opportunities from inside the red zone to try and tie the game. But the Aggie defense held strong and the Vandals’ hopes dwindled away as an errant throw by Davis sailed over the back of the end zone on the last play of the game.
NM State, like Idaho, will now look forward to joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014 after playing the 2013 campaign as an independent.