Jim Thompson, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE — If not for a few kicks smacking into the uprights Saturday afternoon at University Stadium, New Mexico might have recorded its first victory of the season — and the first under first-year coach Mike Locksley — as well as a huge upset of No. 22 BYU.
In the end, though, the Cougars (8-2, 5-1) hung on for a 24-19 triumph over an inspired Lobo team (0-10, 0-6) desperate for a win.
"New Mexico plays tough. I was happy to see them come out and fight, not just kind of lay down," said quarterback Max Hall. "They haven't won a game, but they fought us to the end."
Snake-bitten Lobo kicker James Aho hit the goalpost on three different kicks — twice on field goals and once on an extra point — and had another field goal blocked by BYU senior Andrew Rich. Had those kicks sailed through, the outcome might have been different.
"You can't explain it," BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said of those bizarre misses, "but we'll take it."
Hey, there's a reason why this place is named Albu-QUIRK-e.
Asked why his team struggled against the winless Lobos, coach Bronco Mendenhall replied, "Maybe New Mexico had something to do with it. I think they drew a line in the sand and really were motivated to play a good football game today. To their credit, they did."
No doubt, the Lobos earned BYU's respect.
"I was impressed with how the Lobos played on both sides of the ball," said Mendenhall, who served as UNM's defensive coordinator for five years. "I was excited to see New Mexico's kids play that hard and make as many critical plays as they did. This is what this place is all about, I'm talking about Albuquerque. It should be difficult to come in here and win a football game."
New Mexico outgained BYU in total yards 360-355, and had the ball nearly 10 minutes longer, but the Cougar defense came up big in the end.
After a fumble by BYU running back Bryan Kariya at the UNM 37 with 3:13 remaining in the game, the Lobos, trailing 24-19, had a chance to stage a game-winning drive.
On first down, Cougar safety Scott Johnson was flagged for a personal foul on an incomplete pass to put the ball in BYU territory. But on the following play, senior defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen sacked quarterback Donovan Porterie for a 9-yard loss.
"They kept running screens. (Defensive coordinator Jaime) Hill said to stay home and he ran right back to me," Jorgensen explained. "It was nothing special that I did, but it put them in a big hole and got the momentum back in our favor. It seemed like they had all of the momentum in the world. When that play happened, all the momentum came back to us and energized our guys, I think. Then we got another sack on the next play."
That 8-yard loss was registered by Jorgensen and linebacker Coleby Clawson, giving the Lobos a third-and-27 situation. Porterie threw an incomplete pass, then, on fourth down, ran for 20 yards, short of the first down.
"I'm excited for (the defense) stopping (UNM) when they had to, to win the football game and giving up only 19 points, which will win most football games," Mendenhall said.
BYU took over possession and ran out the clock.
From the outset, the Lobos looked like they were eager to spring an upset. New Mexico took the opening kickoff and scored on a 3-yard touchdown run by Porterie. The Lobos drove 80 yards in 15 plays and 6:17 — marking the first time all year UNM had scored on its first drive. It was also the Lobos' longest scoring drive this season.
The Cougars got on the scoreboard with 51 seconds left in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown dive by Manase Tonga to make it 7-7.
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