TULSA, Okla. — Just when it appeared safe to label this Lobo football season as a lost cause, Jason Sanders and the Lobos’ run defense came to the rescue.
Sanders booted a career-long 53-yard field goal from the far right hash as time expired to give The University of New Mexico an unexpected 16-13 nonconference victory at Tulsa on Saturday afternoon.
The Lobos (2-2) were coming off consecutive losses to New Mexico State and Boise State and entered Saturday’s game with their third-string quarterback at the helm.
Although he did fumble the ball away inside the Tulsa 5-yard line and throw an interception to short-circuit a drive in the fourth quarter, Coltin Gerhart did rush for a team-high 156 yards and complete 9 of 14 pass attempts for 108 yards.
His rushing total was one yard better than Tulsa’s final line as a team. The Golden Hurricane (1-3) had surpassed 400 yards rushing in each of their previous two games and their offense had averaged 56.5 points in that span. They had just 286 yards total offense Saturday.
The most telling stat was in time of possession, where New Mexico held the ball for 42 minutes, 41 seconds of the 60-minute game. The Lobos had two drives of at least 8:41.
Simply put, Tulsa’s quick-strike offense fed into UNM’s ball-control style that held the ball for nearly three-fourths of the game.
The Golden Hurricane ran just 58 offensive plays — 35 below the average UNM had allowed in its first three games. The unit forced one turnover, three punts and one failed fourth-down attempt.
The Lobos never trailed, taking an early 7-0 lead when Gerhart engineered a 79-yard touchdown drive to start the game. The Lobos covered that distance in just six plays. The big play was a combination play of 33 yards where Gerhart picked up the first 11 on a rush before pitching it to Tyrone Owens, who got 22 more.
Gerhart capped it with a 19-yard keeper to break the scoreless tie.
It was a 13-10 Lobo lead at halftime thanks to field goals of 34 and 39 yards by Sanders. The Golden Hurricane tied it early in the fourth quarter on a short field goal.
The Lobos had two critical turnovers in the second half that didn’t come back to haunt them. The first was a fumble early in the second half, then the interception by Gerhart on the drive following Tulsa’s last field goal.
The game-winning drive was set up by UNM safety Bijon Parker when he dove in front of a Chad President pass for a highlight-reel interception. It gave the Lobos the ball at their own 42 with 4:43 remaining in the game.
Gerhart led a methodical 10-play drive that covered just 22 yards. The drive was kept alive twice on third down thanks to a pair of critical short runs by Romell Jordan and Gerhart.
The drive originally gave Sanders a 48-yard field goal attempt but a false start penalty pushed it back five yards. Just before he took the field for the final attempt, he was caught by ESPN’s cameras with a big smile on his face while joking with teammates. He carried that carefree attitude onto the field for the final kick.
The Lobos are now 5-3 against Tulsa, but are 2-2 in games played on the Golden Hurricane’s turf. … UNM is 4-0 in coin tosses this season. … New Mexico will host Air Force next weekend in Albuquerque. It marks the return of Air Force defensive end Santo Coppola, a graduate of St. Michael’s. He is now a captain with the Falcons. … The Lobos had three trips inside Tulsa’s red zone. They converted on just three of those. … Gerhart hadn’t started a game at QB since 2013, his final year in high school.