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Utah State football: Aggies let lead slip away against New Mexico

LOGAN — In a season full of disappointments, the Aggies experienced their most disheartening loss of the year Saturday night.

Trailing 21-6 in the third quarter, the visiting New Mexico Lobos scored the final 18 points of the game to steal a 24-21 victory in front of 15,212 fans at Maverik Stadium.

"It's down; it's tough," senior linebacker Brock Carmen responded when asked about the state of the Utah State locker room after the Aggies' sixth setback in their last seven games.

"On Senior Night, you hate to lose, especially a game like that. It's tough."

Up 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-6 early in the second half, the Aggies (1-6 in the Mountain West, 3-7 overall) surrendered the lead when the Lobos tied at the game at 21-21 on a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with 2:26 to go in the third quarter. A 40-yard field goal by Jason Sanders with 1:06 seconds left in the game then gave New Mexico (5-1, 7-3) its first lead of the night at 24-21.

But the final 66 seconds would end up being chaotic and controversial as the Aggies desperately tried to avoid their third home loss of the season.

On USU's final drive of the game, an 18-yard pass completion from quarterback Kent Myers to running back LaJuan Hunt with under 30 seconds remaining turned into a first-and-10 opportunity at the 19-yard line after New Mexico was called for roughing the passer.

Myers then lobbed up a pass to wide receiver Ron'quavion Tarver in the end zone on the Aggies' next play, and the 6-foot-3 sophomore came down with the football over UNM cornerback Nias Martin for what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left. However, just as the stadium was erupting, a penalty flag appeared, and Tarver was called for offensive pass interference on Martin, who ended up on the ground on the play.

Replays showed minimal contact between Tarver and Martin, and after the game USU head coach Matt Wells took his time responding when asked about the penalty.

"I’m going to choose my words very carefully, as you can imagine," Wells said. "I hope they are right. That’s a hard one to take away from a kid. I’ll just leave it at that and let the Mountain West comment on it Monday morning."

With his team now facing first-and-24 at the 34-yard line, Wells chose to call USU's final timeout to set up a play and "regroup" with 16 seconds on the clock.

During the subsequent play, the middle of the field opened up for Myers, who took off running and slid at the 25-yard line. While the Aggies could have possibly got up to the line and had Myers spike the football, the kicking unit soon started running out on the field as the final seconds clicked away.

At the end, placekicker Brock Warren hurriedly attempted what would could have potentially been a 42-yard, game-tying field goal. But the kick was well short, the Aggies still had too many men on the field, and the snap appeared to come just after the game clock hit 0:00.

"I knew we had time, and all of my linemen were saying, 'Clock it! Clock it!'" Myers said. "So, I'm trusting them — I hadn't even looked at the clock yet — so, I'm trying to clock and I see the kicking team come on the field. So, of course everyone was just confused right there."

Myers ended up completing 21 of 27 passes for 263 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but Utah State's running game never really got going. Backup quarterback Damion Hobbs ended up as the Aggies' leading rusher with 42 yards on five carries, while USU ran for just 128 yards on 28 carries as a team.

New Mexico, the top rushing team in the country coming into the game at 358.8 yards per game, ended with 249 yards on 57 carries. However, UNM head coach Bob Davie swapped starting quarterback Lamar Jordan for senior QB Austin Apodaca. Regarded as more of a throwing quarterback, Apodaca completed 6 of 13 passes for 109 yards to help balance out New Mexico's offense while also creating for space to run Davie's triple-option attack.

"I think it was really big that our offense was able to keep and run the ball on this team, Davie said. "We haven’t been able to run the ball on this team in three years, and it’s just a terrific win.”

New Mexico's first-half scoring all came courtesy of field goals by Sanders from 36 and 37 yards out, while senior running back Teriyon Gipson rushed for a team-high 107 yards on 18 carries, including 5- and 4-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter.

Utah State's first quarter TDs came on a 13-yard run by Tonny Lindsey and a 22-yard connection between Myers and Tarver.

Lindsey also notched a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but USU's running game — which was still without injured senior Devante Mays — came up short on its next-to-last possession of the game.

On first-and-goal from the 9, Gerold Bright picked up nine yards, but then Lindsey was held to no gain and one yard on second and third down. While the Aggies could have attempted a field goal that would have put them up 24-21 with 5:35 to go, Wells elected to go for the touchdown.

Despite going with a jumbo-size formation, USU came up about a half-yard short as Lindsey was unable to reach the goal line on fourth down.

"That was my call," Wells said. "It was less than one yard, and I believe in our guys. And if we didn't get it, it was going to have to be a 99-and-a-half-yard drive.

"We'll look back and wonder, but that's exactly what my mindset was. Put it behind our hogs and our big guys, and unfortunately, it didn't work. But I believe in what we did, though."