On paper a four win season is far from impressive, but in reality it meant everything for the Rams.
CSU beat New Mexico 24-20 Saturday to earn its fourth win, one more victory than the Rams had been able to muster in three consecutive seasons.
“It was a great win because most of the guys that have been here right now, those seniors, have been 3-9, 3-9, 3-9, so it was cool just to break that,” senior wide receiver Marquise Law said. “It was cool just to go out with a win. It’s just awesome”
Much like the Rams’ season, Saturday’s game was hard to process. CSU started off strong, jumping out to a 14-0 lead, but faltered for most of the game.
In the end CSU pulled it out, narrowly, leaving a glimmer of hope for the future.
The Rams had only four possessions in the third and fourth quarters, and punted on three of them.
But trailing 20-17 with 3:05 left on the clock, redshirt freshman Conner Smith led the Rams down the field, and hit a wide open Joe Hansley for a 30-yard touchdown, and a 24-20 lead.
“We practice that two-minute drill every Thursday, so I just tried, myself, focus on staying calm and doing what I’ve been coached to do,” Smith said. “We executed as an offense, and got it done, and it was a good feeling.”
New Mexico didn’t go away quietly, driving down the field to the CSU 16-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in the end zone as time expired, sealing the victory.
Young players for CSU proved to be the difference in the game. Smith completed 19-of-26 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman running back Donnell Alexander led the Rams is rushing with 112 yards on 24 carries and one score. It was his third 100-yard game of the season, and five games in a row for CSU. Hansley was the Rams’ leading receiver with five catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
“That’s definitely something that’s very important from the simple fact that a lot of us will be back,” Alexander said of the freshman standouts. “So if we’re contributing now, hopefully in the future we’ll grow on that and continue to get better as a football team; take the next step to success.”
The Rams opened the game on a long drive highlighted by a 22-yard run by junior running back Chris Nwoke, and finished one play later on a 29-yard touchdown strike to Hansley.
The six-play, 75 yard drive marked the first time all year the Rams scored a touchdown on their opening possession.
CSU followed up its impressive opening drive with an even more dazzling second possession, driving 61-yards and eating up 4:23 worth of clock, before finishing it off on a 3-yard run by Alexander.
Over their first two drives, the Rams moved the ball 136 yards on 17 plays for two scores and 7:05 of the first quarter.
New Mexico responded to CSU’s strong start on defense, picking of Smith and returning the ball 35-yards to the CSU 3-yard line. Running back Kasey Carrier finished off the short drive on a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting CSU’s lead to 14-7.
Other than the turnover, CSU made very few mistakes in the first half, and defensively stifled the Lobos. New Mexico punted on four of its five offensive possessions, and crossed the 50-yard line just twice other than the interception.
Offensively, the Rams proved to be explosive in the first half generating big plays for a 6.7 yards per play average on 253 total yards in the half, including 168 in the first quarter alone. The second half went far less smoothly for CSU.
“(The second half) was a little bit (frustrating),” Smith said. “I’d like to come out the second half and kind of close it up right there, but it didn’t happen like that. We responded and got the W, so that’s what counts.”
New Mexico scored 13 unanswered points to seize a 20-17 lead before CSU’s game winning drive. The Lobos gained just 58 yards of offense in the first half, and ended up with 342 before it was all said and done. Despite their best effort, the Lobos fell short.
“I thought they kicked us in the mouth,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said after the game. “We never could get any rhythm on offense. We’re not going to win if we can’t play defense.”
With Saturday’s win, CSU avoided a fourth straight 3-9 season, and sent its seniors out with a win.
“Guys, obviously that was a lot of fun. It was a great way to end it,” CSU coach Jim McElwain said. “I’m really proud of our seniors. I thought a couple of those guys really gutted their tails off out there. You can see it really meant something to them.”
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.