LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -- Troy University coach Larry Blakeney
didn't feel comfortable taking his team to the Southwest, and his
instincts were right as New Mexico State beat the Trojans, 22-18.
The Aggies gave the favored Trojans their first defeat in their
first-ever Sun Belt Conference game Saturday night in front of a
crowd of 17,587 at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
The Trojans were coming off a stunning 24-14 win over
17th-ranked Missouri, and Blakeney was worried that his team would
have a letdown against an 0-2 New Mexico State team.
"It was a trap that you couldn't describe fully," Blakeney
said. "We knew they were going to be excited about playing us. The
road looks like it could be really severe in this league."
Aggie quarterback Buck Pierce tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to
tight end Travis Samuel with 2:05 left in the game to give the
Aggies the win.
Samuel, a sophomore, is the son of Aggie head coach Tony Samuel.
"I was a little nervous because he was so wide open and those
are the ones you tend to drop," Tony Samuel said. "But I was real
happy with the way he handled it."
The touchdown capped an 80-yard scoring drive and gave the
Aggies (1-2) their first win of the year. NMSU had lost its first
two games by a combined score of 104-27 to Arkansas and California.
"The kids showed a lot of heart and fire," Samuel said. "We
had some adversity there in the third and fourth quarter. They
recovered from it and finished the game strong."
After NMSU took the lead, Troy's ensuing drive was halted when
defensive back Shukree Shabazz forced Cray to fumble after a long
catch and Aggie safety Matt Griebel recovered at midfield with 1:45
"It was Shukree's play," Griebel said. "He's the one who
knocked it loose. I had the easy part."
After trailing most of the game, Troy had taken an 18-15 lead
with 6:58 to play when Greg Whibbs converted a 34-yard field goal.
Troy had tied the game, 15-15, on the first play of the fourth
quarter when quarterback Aaron Leak completed a 33-yard scoring
pass to James Earl Cray. On the two-point conversion, Leak tossed a
pass to DeWhitt Betterson in the corner of the end zone.
Betterson led Troy on the ground with 137 yards on 23 carries.
It was Betterson's 1-yard scoring run that gave Troy its only lead
of the game, 7-3, in the second quarter.
The Aggies used three field goals by Ryan Guardia and a 14-yard
Pierce touchdown pass to freshman Jeremy Lawson to build a 15-7
lead through three quarters.
Pierce, a senior, completed 22 of 34 passes for 219 yards and
two touchdowns to lead the Aggies. Muammar Ali led NMSU in rushing
with 50 yards on 18 carries.
"That's a great team against the run," Samuel said. "I
thought Buck threw the ball well. I thought our receiving was great
and so was our protection."
Lawson had five catches for 48 yards and Tim Tolbert had three
catches for 58 yards for NMSU.
Troy used two quarterbacks: Leak, a senior, and D.T. McDowell, a
freshman, shared the duties. Leak completed 10 of 19 passes for 165
yards, while McDowell completed 3 of 4 passes for 18 yards.
New Mexico State hosts New Mexico next Saturday, while Troy
plays at South Carolina.