El Paso, TX — It took all 60 minutes of playing time, maybe a little bit more, but the New Mexico State football team got its first victory of the Doug Martin era. The Aggies defeated Abilene Christian University, 34-29, Saturday night inside Aggie Memorial Stadium in one of the most memorable finishes in the stadium’s history.
With its first victory of the season, NM State moves to 1-7 on the season while the Wildcats drop to 5-4.
The final score was not decided until the final play of the game. After ACU scored a touchdown to cut the Aggie lead to six with 19 seconds remaining in the game, NM State could not recover a Wildcat onside kick, giving ACU a final chance.
The Wildcats hurt their chances with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 10-yard holding penalty that placed the ball at their own 21-yard line with nine seconds remaining.
ACU quarterback John David Baker launched a hail-Mary pass that was tipped by a couple of Aggie players right into the hands of Wildcat receiver Monte Green-Avery around the NM State 40-yard line. Green-Avery proceeded to lateral the ball to fellow ACU wide receiver Gabriel Taylor who seemed to have a clear path to the end zone running down the right sideline. With the clock expired, senior linebacker Trashaun Nixon ran down Taylor and pushed him out of bounds at the 6-yard line to end the game.
It was a career night for the Aggies on both sides of the ball.
On the offensive side, senior running back Germi Morrison ran for a career-high 146 yards on 28 carries to go along with two touchdowns. It was Morrison’s first 100-yard game this season.
Senior Austin Franklin, meanwhile, had a career-high 11 receptions on the night for 122 yards. Franklin now has nine 100-yard games in his NM State career. Franklin also cracked the top-10 list for career receptions as an Aggie after the first play of the game. He would finish the night sitting at 127 total receptions for his career and in ninth place all time.
NM State quarterback Andrew McDonald finished the night with one touchdown throw and 239 passing yards on 23-of-30 passing while also throwing two interceptions.
Defensively, freshman safety Kawe Johnson had a career-high 12 total tackles, including three unassisted, to lead the Aggies. He would be the only NM State defensive player to finish with double-digit tackles.
Senior cornerback Cameron Fuller also had a big night for the Aggie defense. He intercepted his first pass as an Aggie during a crucial time in the first half.
The Aggies, who were trailing 22-21 at halftime, used three late scoring drives and an aggressive defense that did not allow a Wildcat point in the second half until the late touchdown to seemingly take a commanding lead.
The first NM State points in the second half came after a forced fumble by senior Darien Johnson and recovery by senior Anthony Edwards gave NM State the ball in good field position.
After no one scored in the third quarter, the Aggies would convert the turnover into points during the first play of the fourth quarter with a 32-yard field goal by Maxwell Johnson.
NM State would add another ten points in the second half, a 5-yard touchdown run by Morrison and another field goal by Johnson, to take a 34-22 lead with 2:32 left in the game that would set up the fantastic ending.
The Aggies started the game off strong, going 80 yards on 13 plays. Morrison capped of the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run off left tackle, his third touchdown run of the season, giving NM State an early 7-0 lead. The Aggies rushed for 43 yards on the drive and McDonald went 5-of-5 through the air.
The Wildcats answered with a long drive of their own, scoring on a 20-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Nik Grau after an 11-play drive to cut the NM State lead to 7-3 with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
Some bad luck ensued on NM State’s second possession as a pass intended for Franklin tipped of his hands and fell right into the hands of ACU linebacker Jesse Harper around midfield. Harper returned the interception to the Aggie 47-yard line.
The Wildcats could do nothing with the field position, however, as the Aggie defense forced a three-and-out, heavily aided by a big open-field tackle by Fuller on third down.
Fuller would make another big third-down play during ACU’s next possession. The Wildcats started the second quarter by driving to the NM State 35-yard line. On third-and-6, however, Fuller came up with his big interception.
NM State would capitalize on the Fuller turnover nine plays later. After 17-yard and 16-yard passes by McDonald and a face mask penalty on the Wildcats, the Aggies found themselves with a first and goal. McDonald proceeded to hit junior Adam Shapiro with a short shovel pass which Shapiro turned into a 6-yard touchdown.
NM State led 14-3 with 10:17 left in the half. But ACU struck right back, going on a nine-play drive of its own and matching the Aggies’ touchdown. The extra point was blocked by Aggie senior Willie Mobley to keep NM State’s lead at 14-9.
With the ball at the Aggie 26-yard line, McDonald would throw his interception of the game. This time the Wildcats would capitalize on the turnover and short field with a 20-yard touchdown pass. Once again ACU could not convert the extra point. Nevertheless, the Wildcats had their first lead of the game, 15-14, with 3:36 remaining in the first half.
NM State would also answer the call, however, turning in another nine-play drive, this time for 69 yards. The drive was capped off with some Aggie trickery as McDonald handed the ball off on a reverse to Shapiro who proceeded to add a 6-yard touchdown pass to his 6-yard reception by hitting senior Perris Scoggins in the end zone.
With 52 seconds left in the half, it seemed NM State would lead 21-15 heading into the half.
ACU, however, went 65 yards in three plays and scored a touchdown with nine seconds left in the half to take a 22-21 halftime lead.
McDonald went 12-of-17 for 119 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on the half.
Morrison had 12 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown while Franklin had five receptions for 42 yards.
Johnson already had double-digit tackles after one half, finishing the first half with 10-total tackles.
NM State now travels to Louisiana to play Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 3 p.m.