Bulldogs suffer a fourth-quarter collapse in the regular-season finale

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener (9) was sacked eight times against the University of New Mexico Lobos' defense on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo courtesy of Fresno State Athletics.)

In what could be the last game for the Fresno State football team in 2020, everything collapsed for the Bulldogs at the wrong time Saturday night in Las Vegas.

New Mexico scored three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat the Bulldogs at Sam Boyd Stadium — New Mexico’s seasonal residence for the 2020 season, 49-39 on Saturday.

After getting sacked for the eighth time, quarterback Jake Haener went down with what appeared to be a knee injury. But after walking it off, Haener attempted to help the Bulldogs make a comeback, but he was intercepted just a couple of plays later.

This wasn’t the way Fresno State envisioned its 2020 season ending, suffering its second straight loss.

“Two weeks in a row and we are on the wrong end,” Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer said. “We have to finish in the second half, that was a point of emphasis all week long. We didn’t get to get that done last week, and this week is the same way.”

In a shoot-out, the Bulldogs got on the board early. 

After the defense forced the Lobos to a three-and-out, Haener led the team downfield in the ensuing drive. Ultimately, Haener ended the drive by connecting with sophomore wide receiver Jalen Cropper — who made a diving catch — to put the Bulldogs up 7-0.

But New Mexico quickly responded. On the next drive, freshman quarterback Isaiah Chavez, who made his first collegiate start, made some connections for the Lobos before taking it in himself for a 3-yard keeper, tying the game at seven.

Fresno State started the second quarter with a touchdown. Haener found junior wide receiver Zane Pope with a 16-yard touchdown, putting the Bulldogs ahead.

It seemed like the Bulldogs prevented New Mexico from answering for a second time, but a roughing-the-punter penalty proved to be costly for Fresno State. The penalty gave New Mexico the first down, and Chavez took advantage by finding his tight end Marcus Williams for 44 yards, setting up running back Nathaniel Jones for a 3-yard touchdown run and tying the game once again.

The Bulldogs then countered back with a 30-yard field goal from Asa Fuller. That was made possible by a diving 51-yard catch from freshman Mac Dalena — who stepped in at kicker last week for Fresno State. After the field goal, the Bulldogs led 17-14.

On the other end, the defense successfully forced the Lobos to punt, and Jordan Mims made quick work. The redshirt junior escaped for 84 yards on the drive’s first play, giving Fresno State a 10-point lead.

But New Mexico made sure that was short-lived. Fresno State’s defense just could not find an answer for the Lobos offense.

“Once they got their run game going, the play action starts hitting you and you have eyes in the wrong places,” DeBoer said. “You just have to have that belief and trust in each other. We are still trying to find that.”

Fresno State’s defense struggled to contain the mobile quarterback in this 5-2-4 defense, as seen earlier going up against Max Gilliam of UNLV and Chevan Cordeiro of Hawai’i. 

In the first half, it was the same story. Chavez — the rushing leader for the Lobos in the first half with 97 yards — broke loose on the quarterback draw for 54 yards. A couple of plays later, Bobby Cole punched it in four yards out to cut the deficit, 24-21, leading into halftime.

In the second half, Fresno State had a long drive, going 16 plays and 70 yards. Haener went untouched into the endzone on a 3-yard keeper to finish it. 

Trailing 31-21, New Mexico answered quickly. Chavez threw a floater to Connor Kinslow for a 49-yard touchdown. All the Lobos needed was a field goal to tie it.

Instead, in the fourth quarter, they took the lead. Jones recorded his second touchdown of the game to give New Mexico its first lead, 35-31.

The Lobos offense got hot at the right time. New Mexico followed up with two more touchdowns, and while the Bulldogs attempted to make noise late in the fourth quarter, it was not enough. New Mexico took home the victory, 49-39. 

“There is a lot to learn from and build on,” DeBoer said. “I know a lot of guys are hurting, and that’s a good thing because it means it’s important. It means you can get better. The beginning of next year starts right now.”

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