Big night by New Mexico RB leads Lobos to 34-31 win over Air Force
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)—New Mexico has trailed in the fourth quarter two straight weeks.
Both times, the Lobos have found a way to win.
Punishing tailback Rodney Ferguson ran for 146 yards and John Sullivan kicked four field goals, leading surging New Mexico to a 34-31 victory over Air Force on Thursday night.
“I feel really privileged to be the workhorse of this offense and of this team,” Ferguson said.
The Lobos (6-2, 3-1 Mountain West) snapped a three-game losing streak to Air Force (6-3, 5-2), capitalizing on five lost fumbles by the Falcons—three in the fourth quarter.
“What we want to do every week is create turnovers,” safety Tyson Ditmore said. “Tonight we did a really good job on defense and special teams. It’s a big-time win. I’m 1-3 against them now. It was a good time to get a `W’ out of it.”
New Mexico won 20-17 last weekend at San Diego State after trailing late. The defense forced a fumble with 1:46 remaining and Ferguson scored on a 6-yard TD run with 15 seconds to go in that one.
“No doubts,” Ferguson said after showing his durability with a career-high 41 carries. “If you allow it to creep in, you give it a chance to actually happen. We just knew we would keep fighting.”
Sullivan set a school record by hitting his 18th straight field goal, a 36-yarder that put New Mexico ahead 34-31 with 10:10 remaining.
“Going 4-for-4 up to that point was pretty neat,” said Sullivan, who was 1-for-4 to start the season before his streak. “Making that last field goal to go up was really cool. I knew if we went ahead, our defense could hold them.”
The Falcons got a big break when Sullivan finally missed, sailing wide right on a 32-yard try with 2:18 remaining. But Air Force’s Mark Root fumbled and Herbert Felder recovered for the Lobos, who ran out the clock.
“Our guys were cranked up,” Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. “These kids are passionate, making the most of the opportunities they get. They just didn’t play very well and that has to start with us as coaches as well.”
The Lobos are off to their best start in 10 seasons under coach Rocky Long, and the victory made them bowl-eligible for the seventh straight year.
It also moved New Mexico into second place in the Mountain West behind BYU (5-2, 3-0), though the Lobos still have four conference games remaining and Air Force has one to go.
“One of our goals was to be conference champs,” Ferguson said. “This team wants it so bad. We’re going to keep working and fighting until we get it.”
New Mexico held Air Force standout Chad Hall to 97 yards rushing on 21 carries. It was close, but the Lobos haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 10 games.
“We wanted to focus on him because we knew he would be getting the ball. He’s been a real success for their offense,” Ditmore said.
Hall, the only player in the nation to lead his team in rushing and receiving, had 247 total yards. He added six catches for 66 yards receiving and added 84 yards on four kick returns, two days after missing practice because of food poisoning.
He wasn’t slowed by the illness, zigzagging 26 yards on his first carry and scoring on runs of 1 and 18 yards in the first half. But the Lobos kept Hall in check, considering he’d logged 592 yards rushing in the previous three games.
Sullivan, meanwhile, connected from 43, 20, 32 and 36 yards to break the school mark of 16 consecutive field goals by Vladimir Borombozin from 2000-01.
Sullivan’s 32-yarder tied it at 31 early in the fourth quarter, and his 36-yarder on New Mexico’s next series completed the scoring.
That possession started after Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney fumbled and Wesley Beck recovered for the Lobos at the Falcons 28. New Mexico scored 14 points off three Air Force fumbles.
A key swing came in the second quarter when New Mexico scored 11 points in 15 seconds. Sullivan’s 20-yarder cut Air Force’s lead to 21-13, and Ditmore recovered Ty Paffett’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the 12.
“I saw somebody had knocked out the ball,” Ditmore said. “It bounced around me and I just jumped on it. Next thing you know, there were 10 Lobo guys around me celebrating.”
On the next play, Donovan Porterie threw a 12-yard TD strike to tight end Chris Mark, then found Mark on the successful 2-point conversion to tie it at 21 late in the first half.
“That one kickoff, that was a key play,” Calhoun said.
Ferguson scored on a 3-yard plunge on fourth-and-1, put New Mexico ahead 28-24 in the third. It was set up when Air Force’s Garrett Rybak had a New Mexico punt bounce off his leg and Ian Clark recovered for the Lobos.
The Falcons answered with a 65-yard drive, capped by an 8-yard TD run by Jim Ollis to give Air Force a 31-28 lead late in the third.
Ferguson’s 1-yard TD put the Lobos up 7-0.