By Edward Lewis, Sports Editor
It wasn’t a 63-point blowout, but nonetheless, the San Diego State football team got the revenge it was searching for on Saturday night.
The last time SDSU headed to Albuquerque, N.M., to face New Mexico, the Aztecs were pounded 70-7. This time, however, SDSU got its revenge and plodded its way to a 30-20 victory against the Lobos at University Stadium.
“We’re 5-2 and that’s exciting,” junior quarterback Ryan Lindley said to media after the game. “But we know we need to play a lot better. On offense, we didn’t finish well. A lot of that’s on me; I was overthrowing guys and missing throws. It’s just something we need to iron out to play our best football.”
A win is a win, but this one wasn’t the prettiest the Aztecs will ever see. New Mexico, which is now 0-7 this season, shut down SDSU’s ground game. The Aztecs rushed the ball 41 times for 135 yards, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. To make matters worse for SDSU, the Aztecs lost their star freshman running back Ronnie Hillman, who left the game late in the first half because of an apparent hip injury.
But luckily for SDSU, the Aztecs still had Lindley and the dynamic receiving tandem of DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown on Saturday night. The two caught a combined 14 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Crucial down after crucial down, the two star wideouts made huge plays, bailing SDSU out drive after drive. No play was more critical, though, than a Lindley to Sampson Hail Mary with no time left on the clock in the first half.
After New Mexico punter Ben Skaer booted the ball 11 yards down field, the Aztecs recovered at the UNM 40-yard line with just five seconds left in the second quarter. Head coach Brady Hoke sent his offense out on the field for a Hail Mary, and Lindley chucked a prayer to Sampson, who pulled it down in the end zone. The last-second TD gave SDSU a 17-6 lead heading into the half that was ultimately too big for the Lobos to overcome.
“We practice that every week,” Lindley said of the Hail Mary. “We got some guys – DeMarco and Gavin (Escobar) – some long guys that can go up and get the ball. I’m real confident when I put it up there that we have a good chance to come down with it. And we did. DeMarco made a great play.”
Despite a sloppy performance by its offense, the Aztecs’ defense played a solid game. New Mexico was just 1-for-12 on third downs, picked up just 303 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice against SDSU’s stifling defense. If it weren’t for two Aztec turnovers – a fumble on a punt return and a Lindley interception – the score would have been even more lopsided than it already was.
Still, SDSU moved to 5-2 this season (2-1 in Mountain West Conference play) and sits in third place in the league standings. The Aztecs are just one win away from bowl eligibility.