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New Mexico hammers Hawai’i, hand Rainbow Warriors 10th straight road loss
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED OCT 22, 2023
The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (2-6, 0-3 MWC) became the first conference opponent to fall in Albuquerque since 2017 on Saturday as the New Mexico Lobos (3-4, 1-2 MWC) dismantled the ‘Bows, 42-21, to pick up the program’s first Mountain West victory of the season. The Lobos scored on each of their first five drives (not including the single play drive by UNM to run the remainder of the 1st half clock), punting for the first time late in the 3rd quarter.
Hawai’i committed four turnovers while producing zero takeaways, losing the turnover battle for the sixth time in eight games while tying it in the other two contests. New Mexico entered the week having not produced a takeaway in four games and without an interception recorded before finishing Saturday with a trio of picks and a forced fumble recovery.
The ‘Bows received the opening kickoff on Saturday and promptly went three-and-out for the second consecutive game. It’s the seventh time in eight games UH has punted on its opening drive of the game this season.
After spending the beginning of the week discussing how the team wanted to start faster, Saturday was the exact opposite of those desires. After another fruitless opening drive for Hawai’i, New Mexico quickly marched 70 yards down the field for a touchdown on their first possession of the afternoon. Lobos’ transfer QB Dylan Hopkins connected with his favorite target and UNM’s leading receiver Jeremiah Hixon for a 28-yard TD strike for the game’s first score before the New Mexico defense got the ball right back to the offense at the New Mexico 45-yard line, intercepting Hawai’i QB Brayden Schager for the team’s first pick of the season.
UNM capitalized on the team’s first takeaway in over a month, utilizing the legs of RB Andrew Henry to wear down the ‘Bows defense before Hopkins tossed his 2nd TD of the day, a 3-yard completion to Ryan Davis with 2:14 left in the 1st quarter to put the Lobos ahead, 14-0.
Similar to previous weeks, Hawai’i’s offense would wake up and work quickly down the field on the drive following the Davis TD with a healthy dosage of passing the ball to Steven McBride. The senior wideout had three receptions for 67 yards in the scoring drive, including a tip-drill 12-yard TD reception with 18 seconds left in the opening frame to cut the deficit to seven.
New Mexico’s offense responded again, dicing up the defense through the air before handing the ball off to running back Jacory Croskey-Merritt for a 1-yard TD run to extend the lead back to two scores. It was Croskey-Merritt’s 10th rushing touchdown of the season.
It looked as though Hawai’i’s offense would respond once again, driving inside the New Mexico 30-yard line before the Lobos’ defense was able to tighten the leaks to hold Hawai’i to no points on the drive after a sack of Schager on 4th-and-three.
That’s when the Lobos’ offense flexed their muscles with a 62-yard scoring drive that took less than four minutes and put the home team ahead three touchdowns, 28-7, with 3:25 left in the opening half of play. It was the ground game for New Mexico buoying the drive as Henry dashed 33 yards past the defense for his first touchdown of the day. The 28 points scored by New Mexico is the 2nd-most that UH’s defense has given up in a 1st half, trailing only the 34 points scored by nationally-ranked Oregon.
Starting their “two-minute offense” a little early, Hawai’i’s attack quickly worked its way down the field (aided by a roughing-the-passer flag on UNM) and into the red zone with just under 40 seconds left in the half. Schager uncorked a beautiful throw on 3rd-and-10 to put it only where his receiver could catch it, which Pofele Ashlock did to cut the deficit to 28-14 heading into the locker rooms. It’s the second straight week Ashlock has found the end zone and fifth time total this season for the redshirt freshman.
CFB | 0:24 2Q |— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) October 21, 2023
New Mexico - 28
Hawai’i - 14
Schager delivers a perfect ball to Pofele Ashlock on 3rd-&-10 for the 18-yd TD right before half. Put it only where his WR could get it and Ashlock secured it for his 5th TD of the season.@HIsportsradio @SportingTrib
New Mexico’s struggles this season had nothing to do with getting out of the gate to start the game but everything to do with not being ready in the second half to play. Those issues seemed to be far in the past on Saturday for the Lobos, who marched down the field on the first drive following the halftime break and started the second half the same as the first — a Hopkins TD pass to Hixon, this time for 18 yards to cap a near-seven-minute drive for New Mexico to take a 21-point lead, 35-14.
Forced to play for touchdowns and not field goals with the defensive struggles, the ‘Bows moved the ball into Lobos’ territory before being stonewalled on third and fourth down and one yard to gain to turn the ball over on downs with 5:33 left in the 3rd quarter. Hawai’i’s defense responded for the first time all afternoon, forcing a three-and-out and the first punt of the day for the Lobos on the next drive to get the ball back with 18 minutes left to mount a comeback.
The Rainbow Warriors would work down the field again, finally giving the ball to big back Solo Vaipulu to compliment the passing attack to get inside the New Mexico 20-yard line. Once again, the Lobos’ defense stood strong to force a turnover-on-downs after getting home for a strip sack of Schager on fourth down that the defense was able to recover to close out the 3rd quarter.
The ‘Bows defense would force another punt on the ensuing possession, one the UNM punter Aaron Rodriguez bombed 60 yards to pin UH inside the 10-yard line. With time as the enemy, Hawai’i fully abandoned the running game and looked to the right arm of Schager to push the ball down the field quickly. Hawai’i worked by midfield before a Hail Mary attempt from Schager was picked off by Jer’Marius Lewis in the end zone for a touchback.
New Mexico put the final nail in the coffin on the next drive as Croskey-Merritt danced into the end zone for a 14-yard TD and his 2nd rushing touchdown of the day, making it 42-14 in favor of the Lobos with under seven minutes remaining.
Schager was intercepted again on the next drive before helping lead the ‘Bows down the field for one last touchdown, a two-yard catch from McBride for the Kansas transfer’s 2nd TD reception of the day and 8th of the season to make the over hit while the Lobos’ picked up their first home conference victory since 2017, 42-21.
UNM’s Hopkins finished the day an efficient 20-for-25 passing for 202 yards and three TDs while being sacked just once in the victory for the Lobos. RB Andrew Henry became the first player to rush for over 100 yards this season against the ‘Bows, going for 112 yards rushing and a touchdown. Hixon led the way receiving for the Lobos, bringing in three passes for 62 yards and 2 TDs.
Hawai’i’s Schager ended the day with 345 yards passing to go with three TDs and INTs each in the loss. The junior QB is the first ‘Bows QB to throw for 300 or more yards in 3 straight games since Cole McDonald in the first four games of 2018. Landon Sims led the rushing attack with 34 yards on six carries while Steven McBride paced all receivers with 75 yards across five catches and two TDs.
Hawai’i’s defense allowed over 400 yards of total offense for the fourth time this season and allowed over 200 yards rushing for the third time this year. The ‘Bows now return home to celebrate homecoming, hosting former ‘Bows QB Chevan Cordeiro and San Jose State. The Spartans were 42-21 victors against Utah State this past weekend and open as 10-point favorites in Hawai’i. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. HT and will be broadcast on Spectrum Sports PPV.
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