Defense wilts in NM heat


LAS CRUCES, NM- NIU traveled to New Mexico State University in hopes of a victory which would allow them to retain their first place status in the Big West.

Unfortunately, they return 2-1 and 3-3 overall after a tough 24-17 loss to the Aggies in a game where LeShon Johnson rushed for over 200 yards for the third time in four weeks.

“New Mexico State played the game that I was afraid they might play,” said head coach Charlie Sadler. “They had so many motivational factors for them to have a great performance.”

Sadler explained that the Aggies were at home in front of a Homecoming crowd, had a week off to prepare, suffered a 42-7 loss to New Mexico two weeks ago and they have one of the finest coaching staffs in the country.

“I knew we’d be in a pit of rattlesnakes down here in Las Cruces,” he said.

The loss overshadowed an outstanding performance by the nation’s No. 1 rusher. Johnson had a career high 36 carries and finished with 238 yards on the day. Late in the third quarter he broke outside for 57 yards with the endzone in sight, but was caught from behind by Aggie safety Don Stowers.

“I thought I beat the last man, but he came up behind me and grabbed my foot to knock me off balance,” said Johnson.

NMSU head coach Jim Hess said that play was one of two big plays that helped win the game. The other was an interception in the endzone during that same series.

It was Stowers again saving the Aggies. What was unique was that the passer was Johnson. It was his first career pass attempt and it resulted in a disaster for the Huskies. It came on third down from the ten yard line.

“I didn’t want to throw it too hard because I figured it would go out of bounds and I didn’t want to throw it too soft,” Johnson commented. “Their guy just stepped in front of it.”

“The plan was not to give him anything easy. He got the one long run, but we kept him out of the endzone,” said Hess. “Our defense did a whale of a job.”

The Huskie defense did not have a whale of a game however. Aggie QB Cody Ledbetter had a career game throwing for 380 yards and two touchdowns while completing 24 of his 35 passes. Ledbetter completed eight in a row during the second quarter. One of those completions was a 46-yard touchdown pass to David Osborne.

“We were fortunate, with someone throwing as well as he threw, to hold them to the amount of points we did,” said Sadler.

Scott Crabtree on the other hand, was just 11-of-21 for 118 yards and one interception. He threw one touchdown pass to Raymond Roberts to give the Huskies the late 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

The only other NIU touchdown came on a fumble in the third quarter. Crabtree fumbled the snap on a third-and-goal from the one-yard-line. Fortunately center Chris O’Neal was there to cover it in the endzone for a touchdown. Ironically it was O’Neal’s second fumble recovery of the game. The first one came in the first quarter, also on a fumble by Crabtree.

While the loss puts the Huskies in fourth place, they still have a shot at winning the conference and going to the Las Vegas Bowl.

“We understand, coach Hess understands and I think every coach in the Big-West understands that when this is all said and done there is probably not going to be an opponent that has not been beaten … so we are still in this,” said Sadler.