ALBUQUERQUE — A Frontier Restaurant sweet roll would have been nice.
Maybe a smothered breakfast burrito and a cup of coffee.
After winning his fourth straight game and first head-to-head meeting with the archrivals down south, one might think that University of New Mexico football coach Danny Gonzales would have celebrated by taking a breather at a familiar UNM-area eatery and reveling in all his team had just accomplished.
Instead, it was a quick trip to the parking lot, a short conversation with his family and immediately back to the drawing board.
“This wasn’t a relief to win; this was fun to win,” he said after the Lobos’ 34-25 victory over New Mexico State in front of 28,470 fans at University Stadium.
It was the state’s biggest crowd for a college football game since the 2017 Rio Grande Rivalry game in Albuquerque. It was also a record-setting night for a handful of UNM players, namely quarterback Terry Wilson.
The Kentucky transfer set a career mark with 381 yards passing, tossing three touchdown passes and engineering a first-quarter scoring drive that ended with a Bobby Cole rushing touchdown that gave the Lobos a lead they never relinquished. It was the most passing yards for a UNM quarterback in 18 years, and ranks 13th in school history for a single game.
The Aggies (0-3) did keep it close, staying within a touchdown or less for all but a few moments of a game that featured several big plays on both sides.
The Lobos scored on two of their first three possessions and only punted three times. They had 559 yards of offense compared to 345 for New Mexico State.
“Getting off to a fast start definitely helps with confidence building and getting a rhythm,” Wilson said. “I feel like that’s contagious to the team, making big plays early so we can continue to make big plays later in the game.”
Wilson established a connection with receiver Mannie Logan-Greene, a senior who, in spite of a high-profile impact he’s had on the team the previous two years, had never had a receiving touchdown in his college career until he hauled in a 58-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter.
“Terry’s taking those shots, he’s putting those balls where they need to be,” Logan-Greene said. “You can see guys making those contested catches. That’s what really matters.”
Afterward, Gonzales said he’ll never be upset over a win. After losing 14 straight until winning the final two games of last season and starting 2-0 this fall, he said there is plenty to work on heading into next week’s game at No. 5 Texas A&M.
“They’re [A&M] good enough to go in there next week and embarrass us,” Gonzales said. “I’m not afraid to tell our kids that. I’m not afraid to challenge our kids, but there’s going to be a time where they won’t have a chance to embarrass us. Now we’re going to go over there and put our best foot forward and take our best chance to win, but they put their pants on the same way we do, they put their shoulder pads on the same way we do.”
Figuring out a way to finish teams off would be a step Gonzales would like to see his Lobos take. The offense was stuffed three times on fourth down, including twice on power running formations deep in NMSU territory.
“You can call me as much of an idiot as you want,” Gonzales said. “We’re trying to establish something around here. It’s an attitude. I got upset at those guys because when we go for those opportunities, they have to put that thing in the end zone or they have to get the first down.”
One drive was stopped at the NMSU 11 midway through the third quarter; the last of them at the Aggies’ 3 with UNM trying to turn a nine-point lead into a three-possession game in the final three minutes.
“We’re trying to establish a culture,” Gonzales said. “It’s all about winning.”
The Lobos also gave up a number of NMSU passing plays on out routes that kept drives going. The flip side was holding Aggies quarterbacks Jonah Johnson and Dino Maldonado to 17 for 44 passing with two interceptions.
The Aggies did get a passing touchdown — from receiver Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda in the second quarter, the same player who burned UNM’s defense for a 75-yard TD reception with two minutes left in the first half.
The Aggies trailed 21-20 at the half and were within 24-22 after a safety early in the third quarter.
It was all Lobos from there. On a night where more people turned out than any sporting event in years, Gonzales said it was a nice problem to have when trying to get in and out of the stadium. “When we drove up in the bus [Saturday] morning for the walk-through, the RV park was unbelievable,” he said, saying the traffic was so bad before the game that the team bus had to take an alternate route. “Our escort took us around the campus and in through the back side. I thought the atmosphere inside our stadium was amazing.”
Cole train: Running back Bobby Cole finished with 107 yards for the Lobos. It’s his third career game reaching the century mark, all of them coming during the team’s winning streak that dates to the end of last season.
Accuracy check: Wilson completed his first 11 passes in the season opener. He needed just three throws to have his first incompletion against the Aggies. The senior’s throw to Bobby Wooden on a screen pass was behind and low midway through the first quarter. He completed his next attempt to Andrew Erickson over the middle for a 30-yard gain and connected with Connor Witthoft for a 15-yard touchdown a few plays later.
Infrastructure tested: Anyone attending UNM football games the last few years have gotten spoiled by the lack of traffic congestion around University Stadium. Even on busy days, it’s not unheard of to exit Interstate 25, head up Cesar Chavez and find a parking spot, all with just minutes to spare before kickoff.
Saturday, not so much. Aside from the 28,470 fans who showed up, some heading to the stadium had to contend with the 5,593 who were exiting the baseball stadium across the street. Saturday’s Albuquerque Isotopes-El Paso Chihuahuas game started at noon and ended about three hours later, dumping all those fans into the gridlock of tailgaters trying to get into UNM’s various lots.