Backup Chris Nelson threw three touchdown passes, New Mexico's defense forced five turnovers and the Lobos held off a late New Mexico State rally for a 34-28 win Saturday night.
Nelson replaced starter Kole McKamey, who went out with a knee injury on the third play of the game, and delivered one big pass after another. His last touchdown, a 61-yarder to Marcus Smith with 10:44 left in the game, turned out to be the game-winner as the Aggies (1-1) scored two late touchdowns behind another brilliant passing performance by sophomore Chase Holbrook.
Holbrook, who went into the game leading the nation in passing, completed a school record 37 of 56 passes for 472 yards and four touchdowns. The 472 yards was the third best in school history.
New Mexico (1-1) built a 34-14 lead on the Nelson to Smith pass, then had to hold on as Holbrook threw a 60-yard TD pass to Nick Cleaver and a 13-yard pass to Derek Dubois.
The Aggies got the ball back with 1:44 left but the drive stalled at the NMSU 33 after four incomplete passes
Nelson wasn't spectacular, completing 11 of 26 passes for 283 yards, but when he found receivers, the plays usually went for long yardage. Smith caught three touchdown passes and had 179 yards on 5 catches.
NMSU's Derek Dubois caught 7 passes for 104 yards, Chris Williams had 7 catches for 94 yards and A.J. Harris 7 for 80 yards.
No such success by the Aggies on the ground. New Mexico held the Aggies to 60 rushing yards, minus 3 yards in the first half. The Aggie backs also had four fumbles. The mostly costly were by David Romaka at the New Mexico 2-yard line which killed an 18-play, nearly eight minute drive in the third quarter and one by Chris Nwoko at the New Mexico 46 that set up the Nelson to Smith touchdown.
New Mexico forced three Aggie turnovers in the second quarter and converted two of them into 10 points for a 24-14 halftime lead.
Defensive back O.J. Swift intercepted a Holbrook pass that bounced off Dubois and returned it 46 yards to the NMSU 34. On the next play, Nelson flipped the ball back to third string quarterback Donovan Porterie, who found Smith wide open in the end zone.
On NMSU's next drive, halfback Justine Buries was hit by Lobo defensive end Tyler Donaldson and fumbled, with Donaldson recovering at the NMSU 31. That set up a 38-yard field goal by Kenny Byrd.
The Aggies host Texas Southern on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Aggie Memorial Stadium