A landmark victory for BYU quarterback Max Hall was important to his coach for another reason — it was another hard-fought win for the Cougars.
Hall passed for two touchdowns and got his 29th victory at BYU to match Heisman Trophy-winner Ty Detmer’s school record, and the No. 22 Cougars survived a sloppy fourth quarter to beat winless New Mexico, 24-19, on Saturday.
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“We won the football game, and that, to me, is something that I’ll dwell on most,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “In addition, our team played very hard to win the football game. That’s a positive thing in my eyes.”
The Cougars (8-2, 5-1 Mountain West) held off a focused effort by the Lobos (0-10, 0-6), who were desperate to give fans something good to cheer after a tough season that has been worsened by first-year coach Mike Locksley’s problems off the field.
New Mexico made a game of it with 4:07 remaining when Donovan Porterie’s 20-yard TD pass to Victor James finished a drive that started in BYU territory after an ugly 30-yard punt by Cougars punter Riley Stephenson.
Bryan Kariya fumbled on BYU’s next possession with 3:13 to go, but Porterie was sacked twice by Cougars lineman Jan Jorgensen. After earlier converting three times on fourth down, the Lobos turned it over at midfield when Porterie scrambled 20 yards on fourth-and-27.
Asked why BYU couldn’t maintain its crisp effort from last week’s 52-0 victory at Wyoming, Mendenhall said: “Maybe New Mexico had something to do with it. I think they drew a line in the sand and were really motivated to play a good football game today.”
The Lobos dropped their 14th in a row, the second longest losing streak in school history, and will remember this one for 10 points that never reached the scoreboard.
Kicker James Aho whacked the uprights three times — on field-goal attempts of 35 and 42 yards and on a PAT try, all in the second half. Aho also had a 46-yard field goal attempt blocked by BYU’s Andrew Rich just before halftime.
“I told him, ‘Be ready to kick the winning field goal, James,’ ” Locksley said. “He’s one of the best kickers I have been around in my young coaching career. I had no problem with it. That is the luck of the draw.”
Hall, meanwhile, completed 21 of 33 attempts for 314 yards with one interception. He found Andrew George on a 27-yard TD pass late in the first half and Luke Ashworth for a 13-yard scoring strike on the final play of the third quarter – just enough cushion, as it turned out.
The Cougars improved to 6-0 on the road this season. Mendenhall is 5-0 against New Mexico, where he was defensive coordinator from 1998-2002.
“It’s not easy, regardless of who you’re playing and where,” Mendenhall said.
The Lobos came out ready to make news for something other than Locksley’s altercation with an assistant coach and the university’s subsequent investigation.
“My team hasn’t quit,” Locksley said. “They won’t quit.”
New Mexico led 7-0 after the game’s opening drive, with Porterie’s 3-yard run capping an 80-yard march. BYU’s Manase Tonga scored on a 1-yard dive, Mitch Payne kicked a 42-yard field goal and Hall threw the TD to George as the Cougars went up 17-7 at halftime.
But the Lobos battled back, getting to 17-13 on their first possession of the second half when Porterie beat BYU’s blitz for a 26-yard TD play to Darryl Jones. And New Mexico’s defense played tough against a BYU offense that came in averaging 36.5 points per game.
“It was a game that went all four quarters,” said Porterie, who finished 28 of 44 for 272 yards and two TDs. “We had plenty of opportunities to win.”