Nov. 13, 2011
New Mexico Lobos Football -- At University Stadium
Saturday: New Mexico Lobos 21, UNLV Rebels 14
Up Next: Lobos at Wyoming -- Noon, Saturday, Laramie
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Of course, it was a victory that means something because when Lobos take to the turf, winning is what drives them. But the New Mexico Lobos' dramatic, gutsy, clutch 21-14 Mountain West win over UNLV Saturday night in University Stadium won't produce a bowl bid, a winning season or bring in a big trophy.
What it brings is really much more.
It brings a message that if you stick together, work together, and believe together that often you get what you deserve. The Lobos of 2011, and especially their 12 pack of seniors, didn't deserve to walk away from this season without a win.
And now they won't. They banded together all year despite injury, adversity, and losing their head coach, and on a chilly field in front of a sparse crowd, they banded together for another 60 minutes and made the plays necessary to win.
"They never quit working. They never quit believing," said George Barlow, UNM's interim head coach. "They deserve this."
Sure, the Lobos deserved it because of the attitude carried onto the field and onto the practice field by Lobos such as Carmen Messina, Jaymar Latchison, Mike Muniz, Bubba Forrest, Anthony Hooks, Brett Kennedy and many, many more.
But they also earned this win. They made enough plays to win and didn't make enough mistakes to lose.
"We were looking for ways to start fast and start with some confidence," Barlow said of the go-long call to Long. "You get a big play like that on the first play and they're feeling like they can do it."
Said Holbrook, who was knocked down after making the throw: "To be honest, I got up looking for a flag or something like that because that seems to be our luck. When I didn't see one, I knew it was going to be a good day."
That long, fly-pattern pass to Long was huge, but just as huge was the strong, right arm of Messina, which wrapped itself around the body UNLV quarterback Taylor Barnhill, stripping him of the football with 2:35 to play. "I ripped it out too fast because I was trying to recover it myself," Messina said later, through a sly grin.
The game was tied at that point, 14-all, as both teams bent, but refused to break. UNM led after the first period 14-7 and Vegas tied the contest at the 14:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
Vegas, which had been running the ball well most of the night, was looking to punch the ball down the field and end this battle with a game-winning field goal. The Rebels had a long ways to go -- starting the drive with 4:33 to play on their 15-yard line -- and overtime was probably more of a possibility than a UNLV score.
And then Messina ripped the ball away and then Jaymar Latchison pounced on it and then the Lobos had hope and life -- and the ball at the UNLV 34-yard line.
"It says a lot about those two kids," Barlow said of Messina and Latchison. "It`s their last go-around and they were fighting to get this win."
Holbrook struck quickly, just like he did on UNM's first play of the game when he floated a pass into the capable hands of Deon Long.
This time Holbrook spotted Quintell Solomon slanting across the middle and Holbrook flicked the pass neatly into the arms of the 6-foot-3 junior. It was a 27-yard completion and UNM was on the Vegas seven -- unlucky seven for Vegas.
Lobo Demarcus Rogers then went five yards to the UNLV two. Vegas called time. Rogers then punched the ball over and James Aho's toe made it 21-14 with 1:15 to play. UNLV took the ensuring kickoff, went four-and-out, and UNM notched its gun for the first time in 2011.
"This game here was as big as any I've been a part of," said Barlow. "I am as proud of them as any team I've ever coached on."
The win pushed UNM to 1-9 on the season and 1-3 in Mountain play. The Lobos end the season with road trips to Wyoming and to Boise State. The Lobos will not be favored on those distant cold and blue fields. They weren't favored against UNLV either.
"Word can't describe it," said Holbrook of the emotion that ripped across University Stadium and into the UNM locker room at the game's end.
The scene at University Stadium was a memorable one with Lobos jumping on Lobos and UNM fans storming the field. "The kids are really excited," said Barlow. "They have been fighting and trying to get better."
It was a scene of frustrations lost, but it also was a band of Lobo brothers celebrating something they had earned. The Lobos had a chance at victory. They grabbed it.
The Lobos had more first downs that UNLV (19 to 16), more total yards (415 to 329), fewer punts (3 to 6) and fewer penalties (4 to 9). These narrow margins of better success are critical in games won in the final minutes.
Solomon had six catches for 94 yards and Lucas Reed had four grabs for 58 yards. Crusoe Gongbay had 93 yards on 13 carries for an impressive 7.2 average. Rogers had 48 yards on 12 carries as UNM churned out 141 yards rushing to go with Holbrook's 274 yards passing.
"Carmen is the heart and soul of this team," said Holbrook. "I thought he played lights out and I couldn't be more proud of him. This feels awesome."
Holbrook said there were no words to describe the emotional win, but there are words that come close: brotherhood, believing, persevering, or as Messina put it: "Never giving up."