2:30 PM ET, November 25, 2006
University Stadium, ALBUQUERQUE, NM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A season that began with an embarrassing loss is going to end in a bowl game for New Mexico.
The Lobos, who opened the season with a 17-6 loss to Division I-AA Portland State, clinched a berth in the inaugural New Mexico Bowl with a 41-14 win Saturday over San Diego State.
Rodney Ferguson ran for a career-high 210 yards and two touchdowns and New Mexico scored 24 first-quarter points with the help of three interceptions.
Moments after the win, the Lobos accepted an invitation to the Dec. 23 game in Albuquerque against a team from the Western Athletic Conference.
"It's been an up and down season and we had some games that we should have lost and some where we came back to win," said junior linebacker Cody Kase, whose first quarter interception set the tone for the win.
New Mexico coach Rocky Long said he wasn't sure what he had after the season opener.
"I was wondering if we could win a game," he said. "To lose to a division two team, then strap it up and win three or four really close games, then finish it off like this, that's a really good deal."
A month into the season New Mexico was 2-4, but rescued its season with a three-game winning streak in October. In two of the wins, the Lobos rallied in the second half from double-digit deficits.
"We've had better teams around here than this one, but this team is more competitive than any we've had," Long said.
This time, New Mexico needed no second-half comeback. The Lobos dominated from the start.
Ferguson scored on runs of 26 and 49 yards, consistently picked up huge chunks of yardage against the Aztecs' defense and became the eighth Lobos back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
New Mexico (6-6, 4-4 MWC) got an early field goal from Kenny Byrd, then scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to put away the Aztecs (2-9, 2-5 MWC), who have not had a winning season since 1998.
San Diego State scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns after being down 41-0.
"They (Lobos) ran a lot more zone (coverage) than we had seen on film," said first-year Aztecs coach Chuck Long of his team's first quarter breakdowns. "It was a strange game. Take away all those turnovers and we're in this football game. I really believe that."
The Lobos have been to bowl games three of the last four years but have not won one since 1961.
The New Mexico Bowl's selection of the hometown Lobos was influenced by the prospects of attracting a larger crowd, although just 23,421 turned out to watch the Lobos become bowl eligible. That's the lowest attendance for a home game since 2000.
Byrd's field goal of 35 yards was his 24th straight successful attempt from inside the 40 and was set up by Kase's interception at the Aztecs' 37.
Cornerback DeAndre Wright picked off Kevin O'Connell's pass at the San Diego State 26 and Ferguson scored on the first play. New Mexico then stopped the Aztecs on a fourth-and-1 at the New Mexico 28 and five plays later Chris Nelson tossed a 5-yard TD pass to Travis Brown.
Blake Ligon intercepted O'Connell's first pass on the ensuing SDS possession and returned it 22 yards for a score.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||7-16||6-13|
|4th Down Conversions||1-4||0-0|
|FG||11:54||KENNY BYRD 35 YD FG|
Drive info: 4 plays, 18 yards.
|TD||5:24||RODNEY FERGUSON 26 YD RUN (KENNY BYRD KICK)|
Drive info: 1 plays, 26 yards.
|TD||1:04||TRAVIS BROWN 5 YD PASS FROM CHRIS NELSON (KENNY BYRD KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 28 yards.
|TD||0:38||BLAKE LIGON 24 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (KENNY BYRD KICK)||0||24|
|FG||3:39||KENNY BYRD 45 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 22 yards.
|TD||6:34||RODNEY FERGUSON 49 YD RUN (KENNY BYRD KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||1:02||CHRIS MARK 20 YD PASS FROM CHRIS NELSON (KENNY BYRD KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 62 yards.
|TD||13:11||BRANDON BORNES 28 YD PASS FROM KEVIN O'CONNELL (GARRETT PALMER KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 74 yards.
|TD||7:53||ROBERT MILLER 3 YD PASS FROM KEVIN O'CONNELL (GARRETT PALMER KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 52 yards.