FORT COLLINS, Colo. - The night began and ended with a celebration for the Colorado State Rams. The Rams (4-8, 3-5 MW) knocked off the New Mexico Lobos (4-9, 3-5 MW) on Senior Night, 24-20.
With the win, Colorado State closes out the regular season with three consecutive victories at Hughes Stadium, the first time they have done that since 2008 and the first time against three Mountain West opponents since 2005.
"That was a lot of fun and a great way to end the year," Head Coach Jim McElwain said. "I am really proud of those seniors. I thought a couple of those guys battled their tails off in this game. I am very happy for the win."
The Rams jumped out of the gate on the Lobos, scoring on their first drive for the third time this year. Colorado State drove the ball 75 yards in just six plays and 2:42 to take a 7-0 lead. To cap off the drive, redshirt-freshman quarterback Conner Smith found fellow freshman Joe Hansley in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
Energized from the successful offensive drive, CSU's defense came out and made sure to do its job. The Rams forced a quick three-and-out to give their hot offense another chance at putting points on the board.
The offense did just that, this time going 61 yards in nine plays to give Colorado State a 14-0 lead with 6:30 left in the first quarter. Freshman running back Donnell Alexander finished off the scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. The score was set up by a 26-yard run from Alexander that put the Rams in the red zone.
Alexander finished the game with 112 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 24 carries. It was the fifth consecutive game that a CSU player has rushed for over 100 yards. The last time that feat was accomplished was in 2002.
The Lobos cut the lead to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter after junior running back Kasey Carrier ran it in from a yard out on 3rd-and-goal.
The second quarter featured a see-saw effort from both teams as they battled over field position. The Rams broke out of the back-and-forth action late in the quarter with a 48-yard field goal from Jared Roberts to give them a 17-7 lead heading into the halftime intermission.
Colorado State's defense held New Mexico's explosive offense in check in the first half, only allowing 58 total yards and 47 yards on the ground.
In the second half, New Mexico began to chip away at CSU's 10-point lead. Midway through the third quarter Justus Adams cut into that deficit with a 38-yard field goal on the first of three consecutive scoring drives for the Lobos.
After forcing another punt, New Mexico methodically moved the ball 78 yards in 15 plays to finish off the drive with a 30-yard field goal to make it 17-13 with 10:28 left in the game.
Once again, CSU's offense couldn't manage to gain a first down and quickly had to give the ball back to the Lobos with 7:27 left. A 60-yard punt from Pete Kontodiakos pinned New Mexico at their own 3 yard line.
The Lobos made sure to capitalize on their opportunity though. Using just over four minutes, New Mexico marched down the field 97 yards in just eight plays. The Lobos capped off the drive with a 55-yard touchdown pass from B.R. Holbrook to Jhurell Pressley, stunning the fans in attendance.
The Rams showcased their composure on the next drive. Knowing that they had to score, Colorado State marched 76 yards in seven plays, taking just 1:37 off the clock to score the game-winning touchdown. Smith again was able to find Hansley wide open for a 30-yard touchdown to give the Rams a 24-20 lead with 1:29 left in the game.
"I thought he was great," McElwain said of the poise Smith showed on the last drive. "The guy is a little unflappable, which is great. He went in and executed the drive exactly the way we wanted."
On the final drive of the game, CSU's defense made sure not to relinquish the lead. The Lobos got as far as the Colorado State 16 yard line, but that was as close as they would get. The Rams forced three straight incomplete passes, with the final pass of the game being broken up by Kevin Pierre-Louis as time expired.
Smith finished the game with 254 yards passing and two touchdowns while Hansley had 102 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
On defense, CSU held New Mexico to just 137 yards rushing, well below their average of 314.9 yards per game. Leading the way for the defense was Pierre-Louis who finished the game with 11 tackles, including six solo tackles. Shaquil Barrett added seven tackles and a team-leading two tackles for a loss.
"I think there is a lot we can build on," McElwain said. "This is something that can really help our program."