The Colorado State Rams love playing at University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For CSU, their last two bowl wins in 2008 and 2013 were in those now-friendly confines, and the Rams earned another big victory Saturday night, becoming bowl eligible for the third straight year.
Saturday’s back-and-forth battle was almost entirely about offense, save a few key defensive plays made by the Rams late in the contest. After three lead changes in the first half, Colorado State led 17-14 at the break.
CSU scored on their first drive to start both halves and pushed it to 20-14 before Jhurell Pressley took off 36 yards to the house to steal the lead back at 21-20 New Mexico with 8:54 left in the third quarter. DeAndre Elliott came up huge with a field goal block on the Lobos next drive and Nick Stevens led the Rams down field for the game-winning touchdown – run in by Izzy Matthews – and the 2-point conversion from Joe Hansley. CSU then picked off Jordan twice more to finish off the win and go bowling for a third straight season.
Colorado State started the game like a team possessed; Trent Matthews’ interception on the Lobos second play from scrimmage led to a Deionte Gaines 30-yard touchdown on the next play and the 7-0 lead. New Mexico struck back when Jhurell Pressley pushed the ball over the goal line to tie it up at 7-7. Later in the first quarter, Kivon Cartwright’s touchdown pushed the Rams back ahead at 14-7, but Jordan ran a touchdown in from four yards out to tie the game at 14. After a CSU field goal attempt was blocked, Wyatt Bryan nailed a 25-yarder at the whistle for the Rams 17-14 lead at halftime.
The green and gold had all the momentum going into the half, and they drove with a quickness for 70 yards thanks to a 57-yard bomb and juke by Jordon Vaden. But that drive stalled and the 22-yard field goal was made by Bryan for the 20-14 lead. Then, in less than four minutes the Lobos scored to take the 21-20 lead back, capped by Pressley’s 36-yard untouched score.
That’s when DeAndre Elliott stepped up huge. With New Mexico going for a field goal, which would have pushed the lead to four, Elliott came off the edge and blocked the kick. 12 plays and 87 yards later, Izzy Matthews walked into the end zone for the eventual game-winning score. With CSU up 28-21, New Mexico had two more opportunities; Jordan threw interceptions in each drive to end the Lobos’ hopes.
STARS OF THE GAME
Rashard Higgins was a star for multiple reasons. First and foremost, he had eight receptions for a game-high 140 yards. Also, Higgins passed David Anderson for No. 1 on Colorado State’s all-time receptions list with this catch here.
Izzy Matthews is certainly a star of this win, with the game-winning score. He also ran for a career-high in yards with 89 in the game and looks to have a bright future as a CSU running back star.
Defensively, Trent Matthews enjoyed five tackles with an interception and his safety partner Kevin Pierre-Louis had four tackles with a pick of his own.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Deionte Gaines touchdown run was the play of the game because it completely set the tone for the Rams and how the game would develop. Matthews picked off Jordan, but scoring on the very next play was huge for Colorado State’s confidence as well as for deflating the Lobos. While New Mexico marched and scored to tie, starting the game with a lead on the road is key.
DeAndre Elliott’s blocked field goal was the turning point in the game because it was a momentum swing back in CSU’s favor. With New Mexico looking to score 10 straight points and push their lead to four, Elliott fired off the line and flew through the air to block the kick with seeming ease. His teammates engulfed him as they celebrated and then the offense went 87 yards to the end zone for the game-winning drive.
BY THE NUMBERS
Colorado State won the turnover battle 3-0 and won the game on the road against a solid opponent.
Nick Stevens enjoyed one of his best starts for the Rams, going 16-23 for 264 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers.
The Rams offense totaled 485 yards compared to 326 for the Lobos. 221 of those yards for CSU were on the ground, with Dalyn Dawkins’ 94 leading the way and Matthews’ 89 right behind.
Colorado State went 9-14 (64.2 percent) on 3rd downs while New Mexico was successful on 6-11 (54.5 percent) of their attempts. There was a mere one punt total in the entire game.
This win was massive for Colorado State. It means they’re now bowl eligible and could even enjoy a plus-.500 season in Mike Bobo’s first year with a win over Fresno State next week. It also means the Rams record improves to 6-4 overall, 4-3 in the Mountain West, which is the same as New Mexico’s after the loss.
The last regular season game of the year comes next Saturday at Fresno State (3-8, 2-5 MW) against a Bulldogs team who was blown own 52-10 by BYU today.