In likely the curtain call for an unpredictable 2020 season, Fresno State fell victim to an inspired New Mexico team, 49-39, in a stunning upset Saturday. It was the Lobos’ first win over the Bulldogs since 1994, and their second consecutive win after suffering a 14-game losing streak and 20-game conference losing streak.
The Bulldogs (3-3) led by three points at halftime and entering the fourth quarter, but the Lobos scored three touchdowns in the final quarter to shock the Bulldogs and finish their season at 2-5.
“There’s more hurt than anything,” said Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer. “There’s more hurt than there was even last week [against Nevada], because the same thing happened at the end of the third and start of the fourth, and there’s probably multiple reasons for that.”
The game, which took place in Las Vegas due to Bernalillo County guidelines preventing the Lobos from playing in Albuquerque, turned into an offensive shootout: 11 plays went for 20 yards or more, and each team surpassed the 400-yard mark in total offense.
New Mexico running back Bobby Cole inflicted the most damage to the Bulldogs’ defense on the ground, rushing for 138 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns.
Fresno State scored on its opening drive, when Jake Haener found a diving Jalen Cropper in the end zone from 10 yards out. New Mexico answered with a 75-yard march down the field, capped off by freshman quarterback Isaiah Chavez punching in a three-yard option run.
Haener tossed his second touchdown pass to open the second quarter, hitting Zane Pope on a 16-yard strike. The Lobos tied it up again on the ensuing drive with a three-yard touchdown rush from Nathaniel Jones.
A 51-yard pass from Haener to Mac Dalena – the first career reception for the San Joaquin Memorial product – put the Bulldogs in position for a 30-yard Asa Fuller field goal to take a 17-14 lead.
Jordan Mims continued an explosive first half for Fresno State, breaking free for an 84-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 24-14. It was the longest run of Mims’ collegiate career, and the 10th-longest run in program history.
Yet New Mexico again answered immediately, via Bobby Cole’s first rushing score from four yards out.
The Bulldogs’ offense took nearly eight minutes off the clock to open the second half and scored on a three-yard keeper from Haener. New Mexico only needed two minutes to come up with a response: a 49-yard touchdown pass from Chavez to freshman tight end Connor Kinslow.
Chavez’ scoring strike was the first of four unanswered touchdowns for New Mexico, with Cole punching it in twice more and Jones scoring again to give the Lobos a 49-31 lead.
Haener suffered an injury to his right leg in the fourth quarter, yet finished the game and threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Dalena with a minute left.
Haener passed for 350 yards and three touchdowns in the game, yet was sacked eight times and threw an interception while under pressure in the fourth quarter.
Haener’s counterpart, walk-on freshman Isaiah Chavez, was a dual-threat from the quarterback position: he passed for 196 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 96 more and another score.
Cropper led all wide receivers with 12 receptions, 134 yards and a touchdown catch. It was the Buchanan grad’s third consecutive 100-yard receiving game.
The Lobos outgained the Bulldogs in total yardage, 495-408, and New Mexico was proficient in moving the chains, converting 12-of-16 on third downs.
It added up to a season-ending win for the Lobos, who can finally head back home to Albuquerque after living out of an abandoned Las Vegas casino since Nov. 2.
As for Fresno State, it appears Saturday’s defeat will be the last time fans see the Bulldogs in 2020. DeBoer said postgame that he does not anticipate his team playing an added regular season game, as speculated earlier in the week, due to the team’s roster thinning out from injuries and unconfirmed contact tracing.
Despite the bittersweet loss to end the season, DeBoer still had plenty to be proud of in 2020 – a year where the season was initially postponed, and Fresno State was the last Mountain West team to return to campus and fully practice.
“The staff has been going nonstop, and that’s what I’m so proud about,” said DeBoer, “is that the staff and players have stuck together through all of this.”