Rutgers overcomes 21-point deficit to avoid New Mexico upset, 37-28
New Brunswick, NJ: “The Birthplace” – The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers (2-1) fell behind 21-0 in the first period to the New Mexico Lobos (1-2), but three seconds left in the period, QB Chris Laviano connected with WR Juwan Harris for a 75-yard TD pass to cut the lead. The Knights would score the next 24 points of the game before the Lobos would score again, and then walk-on PK David Bonagura would add two FGs late to give RU the final points to seal the victory. They overcame a 21-point deficit to avoid a New Mexico upset bid, 37-28.
WR Janarion Grant’s early fumble resulted in New Mexico’s first score, but his diverse contributions later would be keys to the Scarlet Knights’ win. Guest Game Analyst Frank Scarpa, RU fan and grad, was very happy with the result, but contemplating the Knights’ future starting Big Ten play next week.
New Mexico’s first punt of the game was mishandled by Grant and gave them possession at the Rutgers 17. RB Daryl Chestnut (41 rushes for 114 yards) ran the ball in for a 19-yard TD. Two offensive series later, QB Austin Apodaca who platooned with Lamar Jordan at the position every other series, threw a 37-yard TD strike to WR Patrick Reed. On their next possession, Jordan sped 52 yards on an option from the pistol formation for the Lobos third score of the first 15 minutes looking like they were going to turn this game into a laugher with a 21-0 lead. On his run near the sideline, RU safety Anthony Cioffi gave Jordan a shove which did not knock him out of bounds, but instead propelled him up the field for the score. During various plays during the game, Frank and I spoke about our dislike for the option run from the pistol formation – a back three yards behind the QB in the shotgun. The pitches to the deep backs risk more losses more than gains because of the depth of the play compared to the triple option that Navy runs from right under center. Ten seconds later in the frame, Laviano connected with Juwan Harris with a pass directly down the middle for a 75-yard TD pass to close the first quarter scoring at 21-7.
Rutgers’ first series of the second resulted in a well-executed play with Laviano sprinting to his right and pitching back to Grant on a fake reverse. Grant looked into the end zone and tossed a spiral into the end zone to WR Andre Patton for a 21-yard TD pass. The Scarlet Knight defense forced another punt after a three and out series. Eighty yards later, RU fired by UNM on a dive play up the middle by Robert Martin (21 carries for 169 yards) who went virtually untouched for the score. The momentum was now with the home team with 39,680 fans in attendance. Late in the period, New Mexico punted from its 35. Grant fielded the low kick on a bounce, started left, and then cut down the right sideline for a 69-yard touchdown return with 1:04 left and a Scarlet Knight 28-21 lead. Apodaca came out throwing the ball with a drive starting from his 34, but his typical floater of a pass was intercepted by DB K.J. Gray at the ten where RU took a knee on the final play of the half. Frank noted that SUNY QB Tom Wright we’d seen in the D-3 clash the evening before had much better arm strength than did the New Mexico QB. After and early morning tailgate consisting mostly of Bloody Mary’s and peach crumb cake, I went out into the concession area and got us my favorite stadium food anywhere – two Premio Italian sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions, a perfect lunch at halftime.
Rutgers recovered a UNM fumble in the third period which we could not believe was reviewed having seen so many evident calls delayed to be replayed. The turnover resulted in a 40-yard FG by Bonagura to put the Knights up by ten, 31-21. Neither team scored again in the third, and Los Lobos were in business at the the RU 39 when the period ended.
From 22 yards out, RB Richard McQuarley took the dive handoff through the middle and went unscathed for a New Mexico TD to bring the Lobs back to within three with 12:12 left to play. Rutgers next drove to the 28, intentionally took a delay to punt at the 33 as HC Chris Ash decided to forgo a FG or first down attempt. The call worked perfectly as Dacoven Bailey downed the punt putting the Lobos on their one. Rutgers got the ball back on their 35 with Zach Allen replacing an ineffective Laviano (11 of 27 passing for 152 yards, 1 TD) at QB. Stopping RU around the Lobo 30 for a fourth down and six, UNM S Lee Crosby pulled the bonehead play of the season thus far with an unsportsmanlike penalty by running up behind Janarion Grand and belting him from behind well after the play was over. Lobo HC Bob Davie deservedly chewed him out and pulled him out of the game for such a stupid, bonehead penalty after a big stop for his defense. We wonder how far down the depth chart Crosby falls after this. His idiocy gave RU new life, and Bonagura drilled a 33yard FG to go up six, 34-28. An ensuing New Mexico punt from the eight was returned by Grant (7 punt returns for 112 yards) to the New Mexico 16. With 3:05 left, Bonagura converted a 28-yard FG to seal the game against the fading Lobos behind now by nine points. New Mexico, however, drove deep into RU territory with over one-minute left. The attempt to get back within six to try to win with the benefit of an ensuing, recovered onsides kick, but the dream went away as Jason Sanders 33-yard attempt went wide left. Final score: Rutgers 37 New Mexico 28. It was a great come from behind win for the home team, but how many more wins will they enjoy this season?
Next Saturday at noon, RU opens Big Ten play against Iowa coming off a 23-21 loss to FCS five time defending champ North Dakota State. New Mexico hosts San Jose State. Collegefootballfan.com had plans to go to Princeton after this game to see the Tigers host the Lafayette Leopards in their season opener at 5 pm, but the traffic out of The Birthplace and good games on tap on the tube this evening changed that plan. Princeton won, 35-31. Next Saturday, we shuffle off to Buffalo to see improving 3-0 Army play the Buffalo Bulls (1-2).
Extra points: Two defensive linemen led RU in tackles. Julian Pinnix-Odrick had 12 with 5 solos, and Darius Hamilton garnered ten with five solos also.