A long, four hour game of endurance was played out at Dreamstyle Stadium where the Lobos outlasted Sam Houston State in a drama of five acts. It was not the prettiest football I have ever seen, but in reality is was an exciting game that went down to the last 90 seconds.
Act I: The Lobos dominate the first 15:03 to take a 16-0 lead. Brandt goes starts at quarterback and produces 140 yards in the air. Not a very efficient completion percentage as he is 7 for 17, but most the balls he throws wend down field, averaging 20 yards per catch. The Lobos use big plays by Ahmari Davis (a 43 yard TD run and a 51 yard reception) to control the field position and the score. They outscore the Bearkats and outgain them by 130 yards.
The Lobo defense clogs up the run, holding Sam Houston to 8 rushing yards on 8 attempts. It looks like the Lobos might have a relatively easy time of things.
Both teams are playing with few if any huddles and even early it’s questionable how well players will hold up in the heat. The stated kick-off temperature was 97 degrees, and likely 10+ degrees hotter on the field itself. The Lobos in particular are swarming plays, often having four to six defenders near the point of the tackle.
Act II: The Bearkats change tactics and counter-punch. They continue to throw in some runs in the second quarter, but put more emphasis on the pass—and start doing that better. They take advantage of some big cushions UNM is giving their receivers and complete 8 passes for over 150 yards in the second quarter, many of those yards after the catch. For the most part UNM wasn’t missing tackles, they were allowing too many yards before contact. They scored on two drives of 75 and 79 yards including a 65 yard Brock to Bowens TD pass. After Ahmari Davis’ second TD run to stop the bleeding, SHS added a field goal, and opened the 3rd quarter TD with another 70+ drive for a go-ahead TD to take a 23-22 lead. They had outscored UNM 23-6 in a fifteen minute span, and if Bearkat QBs had not missed some wide open receivers, it could have been worse. SHS had run 51 plays to the Lobos 43, and had outgained UNM 323 to 269.
The Lobo defense was playing with energy, but sometimes not the right positioning. But they were getting a helping of assistance from the opponent as well, and startint to be on the field too much.
Act III: The doldrums of the third quarter. The next 11+ minutes was a lot of angst, tightrope walking, and nail bighting. Starting QB Brandt Holt didn’t return in the second half, having apparently suffered a shoulder injury of unknown detail. Sheriron Jones took over, and the offence shifted 180 degrees. Start channeling Woody Hayes. Three runs come up short. Punt. Get the ball back, two runs and a too-short completion. Punt.
Meanwhile the Lobo defense faces an increasingly pass-happy barrage. They dodge series after series with a combination of decent pressure on the alternating SH quarterbacks, and some missed open receivers/dropped passes. Put together they help and prevented any more Bearkat scores—the game had the feeling that if SH scored another TD before the Lobo offence righted itself, a route might ensue. But the defense held enough, even if by their fingernails at times.
Act IV: Lobo turn to shift gears again. Finally, with 7:27 left to go in the third quarter, the Lobos opened the O back up and let Jones throw. Sam Houston was clogging the box, and four straight Lobo passes found success. One incomplete, then three completions for 28, 17, and 12 moved the ball from the UNM 40 down to the Bearkat 3—but the drive stalled and Andrew Shelly’s field goal was disappointing consolation. However it did put UNM back up by two.
That seemed to end the doldrums and awaken the attack. Coupled with the heat starting to take something out of Sam Houston. Starting in the mid third quarter it seemed every second or third play a Bearkat was collapsing and had to be helped off. The temperature and pace of the game seemed to be taking a toll, and the Lobos seemed in better condition.
On the last drive of the quarter, Sheriron Jones took charge. A nice pass completion of 47 yards to Jordan Kress set up Jones runs of 10 and 11 yards that put UNM back up by nine as the quarter ended.
The UNM drives were still very short, not giving the defense much of a break, but they were producing points. At the end of the 3rd, the Lobos trailed in time of possession, but led in both points and yards.
When Jones scored a second TD only 1:19 into the fourth quartet the Lobos had recouped the entirety of the Sam Houston counter attack and were up 16 again. Things were looking alright.
Act V: The crescendo. And some anxious moments. Up 16 points and seeming to have taken back the momentum, a few things turned bad for the Lobos. First, on defense, they started to lose the SH receivers more and more often. While a Bearkat receiver was occasionally getting wide open in the first three periods, in the forth it became endemic. Even though there was still some pressure applied by the front three, Ty Brock completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards in the 4th, many of them too easy. And while the Lobo tackling had been reasonably good until then, they started missing tackles on both running and passing plays. They avoided one bullet after another for a while, but they were again holding on by their fingernails—and some overthrows.
The offense was not guiltless in making the fans in the stands squirm. Ahmari Davis had his third 43+ yard play, a 53 yard run, but other than that the Lobos ran only 8 times for 17 yards in the 4th quarter. Several times they had the ball and a 16 point lead, and a couple rushing first downs—maybe just one rushing first down—would have essentially sealed the deal. But somehow they ran—out of bounds to stop the clock. The threw—incomplete to stop the clock. Too many opportunities to run out the clock without doing so.
And in time, Sam Houston capitalized with a 12 play 86 yard drive to score, make the two point conversion, and get within one score at 39-31 with 3:01 left. The only good thing is the Lobo D made them go step by step, using 4:39 to complete that drive.
Now everyone had a very good idea what was coming. An on-sides kick. But inexplicably, the Lobos have to call their last time out to remind the team of this—and then let SH recover the on sides kick with minimal resistance! Game not over quite yet.
Next play a complete breakdown on a flea-flicker to a hugely open receiver for 30+ yards. Then, like turning a switch, the good Lobo D shows up again. Stop a run for a loss. Incomplete pass, with good pressure on the QB. Another run stopped for a loss. A sack as SH faced a 4th and 16. Give the ball back to the offense, three knees and it’s over. A very exciting, if aging, 39-31 win to start the season.
Stepping back a bit, there was good and there was bad.
The good: The team looked in good condition to go 95 plays in this heat. Until the 4th quarter the tackling was decent, especially against the run. Take away one 65 yard run, and the Lobos held the Bearkats to less than 2 yards per rush on the other 34 running plays. There were a lot of big plays and big play weapons as six players made plays of 17 or more yards, in the running, passing, and kick return games.
The bad: There were too many times the SH receivers was five yards clear of any defender. The offence was inconsistent—yes, they gained 485 yards, but there were few sustained drives, and if they didn’t score on big plays, they didn’t seem to be get the tough 4, 5, 7 yard runs. And there were too many game management mistakes on offense.
What next for the season? Too early to tell. If they do not improve the pass defense there will be games where a good QB tears them apart. But there is time to improve that. The other big question I would have is the health of Brandt Hughes. His throwing is something the Lobos have not seen in a while. 200+ yards in the air in a half, and that was with a relatively low completion percentage, is something to build on.
But for today, UNM is 1-0.
After the game coach Davie was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The early word was a “heart problem”, but that was unofficial. More information may not be available until tomorrow.