|Vandals lose epic battle|
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Brian Reader searched for an opening, seeking the open receiver who could save the day for the Idaho Vandals. He didn’t find one and, on the last play of the Idaho-New Mexico State thriller at Memorial Stadium, he was run down and sacked.
It was a bitter ending to a game during which Princeton McCarty ran like a player possessed. One during which special teams came up with one big play then another. And one during which the defense, with a couple of exceptions, was stalwart in the face of a persistent Aggie offense.
The result was a 31-24 Western Athletic Conference loss – it was the 10th game in this 18-game series to have been decided by one touchdown or less.
“It was a battle,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “It was a whale of a football game. It did not have a happy ending. We had a chance to make that play.
“We’re all hurting.”
Idaho’s defense came up with stop after stop, while the special teams scored three times – a punt return, a kick return and a field goal. It wasn’t enough to support an offense that gained just 281 total yards.
“The defense responded well after the beginning of the game,” Akey said. “They had pretty good control – when we did give up a big play, we were able to respond.”
The Vandals lost the costly turnover battle with three fumbles and one interception going to the Aggies, with Trey Williams coming up with Idaho’s lone steal, which set up the Vandals only offensive touchdown in the first quarter.
The Aggies shot out to a quick 14-0 lead with less than three minutes elapsed in the game. First, they scored on a quick seven-play, 69-yard drive with 12:31 left in the opening quarter then they recovered Justin Veltung’s kickoff return fumble. A 20-yard Matt Christian to Kemonte` Bateman made it 14-0 with 12:17 left in the first.
The Vandals went three-and-out on their first possession but Trey Williams recovered Austin Franklin’s fumble on the punt return to give the Vandals the ball at the NMSU 6. After an incomplete pass (the ball was caught barely out of bounds), Princeton McCarty first carried the ball five yards then one to score for Idaho with 10:10 left in the first.
Not to be outdone, the Aggies were back on the scoreboard 17 seconds later with Taveon Rogers’ 100-yard kickoff for a 21-7 lead.
After holding NMSU on its next possession (thanks in large part to a Conrad Scheidt tackle for loss and a Homer Mauga sack), Idaho marched to the Aggie 27 before stalling and calling on kicker Trey Farquhar for a 45-yard field goal attempt. His kick was good to cut NMSU’s lead to 21-10 with 2:05 left in the first.
The second quarter was a back-and-forth defensive tussle with Idaho’s defense limiting the Aggies to just 25 total yards. On the flipside, the Vandals gained but 77.
Justin Veltung started the Vandals off on the right foot in the third quarter when, after the Idaho defense held the Aggies deep in their territory, he returned a punt 64 yards to score with 10:58 left in the third. Farquhar’s kick was good to close the gap to 21-17.
The Aggies, however, responded with an interception by Donyae Coleman to set up a short-field TD – a one-yard Travaughn Coleman to Bateman pass to wrap up the five-play, 29-yard drive with 7:06 left in the third.
The madcap scoring continued when McCarty returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to score just 14 second later. With Farquhar’s kick, the Vandals were back within four, 28-24, with 6:52 to play.
The Aggies bumped their lead back to seven on Tyler Stampler’s 20-yard field goal with 13:11 left in the game but it was a credible effort by the Vandal defense, which forced the field goal by holding when the Aggies had first-and-goal from the Idaho 4.