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ACU starts strong, loses first game with Adam Dorrel

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - New Mexico outscored ACU 24-7 in the second half Saturday night and the Lobos turned three Wildcat turnovers into 10 points as they knocked off ACU, 38-14, in the season-opener for both teams in front of 21,475 fans at Branch Field at Dreamstyle Stadium.

The Wildcats (0-1) trailed just 14-7 at halftime and took the opening drive of the second half into scoring position before coming up empty. The Lobos (1-0) scored 10 third-quarter points and finished off the Wildcats with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns - including a 91-yard interception return for a score by Jake Rothschiller - to turn a close game into a 24-point finish.

The Lobos - who led the nation in rushing yards per game last year at 350.0 yards per game - ran for 259 yards against the Wildcats, but also threw for 222 or 115 yards more than what they averaged through the air in 2016. The Wildcats dominated time of possession (33:39 to just 26:21 for the Lobos) and ran 76 plays to just 58 for the Lobos.

But the Wildcats couldn't sustain their first-half momentum in the second half as the Lobos turned a fumble recovered inside ACU's 20 into a touchdown and then scored on the long interception return, sealing the win.

Here's a recap of Saturday night's season-opener:

First Quarter

The Lobos moved smartly on their first drive of the game and quickly moved inside the ACU 5-yard line before stalling and eventually facing fourth-and-goal at the ACU 3-yard line. But Richard McQuarley was stopped by Dante Hibbert at the 1-yard line, snuffing the drive short of the end zone and turning the ball over to the Wildcats.

ACU responded with a 99-yard scoring drive that saw junior QB Dallas Sealey complete 8 of 10 passes and convert two third-down plays into first downs on the drive. Sealey's final completion on the drive was a 36-yard touchdown pass to Carl Whitley, who took a pass from Sealey on a slip screen and outraced the UNM defense to the corner of the end zone to give ACU a 7-0 lead.

The Lobos, however, wasted little time getting the game tied as they moved 71 yards on just five plays to a 4-yard touchdown run by Daryl Chestnut, the first of his two scores in the game. The drive was sparked by a 27-yard pass from Lamar Jordan to Chris Davis on the first play of the drive.

Second Quarter

ACU mustered just 78 yards of offense in the second quarter, but the defense kept the Wildcats in the game with three sacks in the second quarter, two of them by sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Chambers.

The only score of the quarter came on a 4-yard run by Tyrone Owens with 11:20 left in the second quarter, capping a three-play, 66-yard scoring drive. The Lobos - who had 284 yards of offense in the first half to 183 for the Wildcats - led 14-7 at halftime.

Third Quarter

The Wildcats opened the second half with the ball and took advantage of a personal foul on punter Simon Laryea to keep its opening drive alive. A couple of plays after UNM was whistled for the personal foul, it looked as though the Wildcats had tied the game with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Troy Grant. However, the ball slipped out of Grant's arms as he fell into the end zone, resulting in an incomplete pass.

On the next play, the snap from center went over the head of Sealey and De'Andre Brown recovered it at the ACU 40-yard line for a 26-yard loss. A couple of plays later, Laryea was forced to punt and his punt dropped at the UNM 25-yard line.

The Lobos moved smartly, going 75 yards on eight plays to a 54-yard scoring run by Chestnut, giving UNM a 21-7 lead with 6:04 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats went nowhere on their next drive, and on third-and-eight, Sealey was sacked and he fumbled, turning the ball over to the Lobos at the ACU 20-yard line. The Lobos moved to the ACU 7-yard line before Jason Sanders booted a 25-yard field goal to give the Lobos a 24-7 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter.

Fourth Quarter

The Lobos added a pair of scores in the fourth quarter, the first coming on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jordan to Jay Griffin IV and the other coming on a back-breaking interception return. The touchdown pass to Griffin came with 13:57 left in the game and pushed the Lobos' lead to 31-7.

On ACU's ensuing possession, the Wildcats were forced to punt, but Tracy James forced a fumble that was recovered by Bryce Baccarini at the UNM 6-yard line. But on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Sealey's pass was intercepted by Jake Rothschiller and returned 91 yards for a touchdown to give the Lobos a 38-7 lead with 11:06 left in the game.

The Wildcats' second team offensive unit entered the game in the final minutes and got ACU's final touchdown as backup quarterback Luke Anthony hit Hunter Lees with a 34-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the contest.

Stat Corner

-- The Wildcats had nine sacks in 11 games in 2016, but had three in the first half of Saturday night's game, two of those by sophomore OLB Jeremiah Chambers.

-- Newly signed punter Simon Laryea had a terrific night, delivering punts of 59, 69, 37, 27, 49 and 33 yards to finish the night with a 45.7 yards per punt average.

-- ACU's second-half drives ended in, consecutively, a punt, fumble, punt, punt, interception returned for a touchdown, punt and touchdown. The Wildcats had just 119 yards of offense in the second half.

-- UNM led the nation in rushing yards per game last year (350.0 ypg) and only threw for 106.8 yards per game. But Saturday the Lobos unleashed a potent passing attack that saw Jordan complete 11 of 17 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown for a quarterback rating of 189.4.

-- Sealey established a career-high in completions with 33 and tied his career-high in attempts (53), which he originally set on Sept. 24, 2016, in a 41-30 loss at Stephen F. Austin.

Quotable

ACU head coach Adam Dorrel

"I thought we did some good things, but we have some things to clean up. I was most pleased that we had a group of players and coaches who came here believing we could win the game."

"Our halftime locker room was awesome. The guys didn't just think we could win the game, they believed we win the game and they acted like it in the locker room. Then we come out in the third quarter and move down and it looks for a minute like we've tied the game on the pass to Troy Grant. If we get that it's a 14-14 game and who knows what might happen after that."

Next

The Wildcats will stay in the Mountain West Conference next week as they take on Colorado State at 2:30 p.m. (Abilene time) in Fort Collins, Colo. The Rams are 1-1 on the season after beating Oregon State (58-27) in their season-opener before falling to arch-rival Colorado, 17-3, earlier Saturday afternoon.

Courtesy ACU Athletics.

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