Abdul Kanneh’s fourth-quarter interception may have saved homecoming for New Mexico Highlands University.
The Cowboys’ defensive back picked off a Brian Duboski pass in Highlands territory — on what could’ve been a go-ahead drive for Western State Colorado with four minutes left — and returned the ball 36 yards to the Mountaineer 24-yard line.
The turnover led to a critical insurance score by the Cowboys, who went on to win 31-17 on a chilly Saturday afternoon in front of a packed crowd at Perkins Stadium.
“Western State is a very well coached team. They gave us some fits at times, but we were able to gather ourselves and get the win,” said NMHU head coach Eric Young via news release.
WSCU didn’t come into the contest with much hoopla, having lost all five of its games thus far.
But the Mountaineers came to play and held the Cowboys to a couple of unsuccessful field goal tries in the opening period.
Highlands broke the ice on a 67-yard bomb from Emmanuel Lewis to De’joshua Johnson with 10:43 left in the first half.
It became 14-0 after Lewis connected with John Webster 3:53 before halftime.
Western answered with a 31-yard field goal by Steven Ballard just before intermission.
Darius Davis hauled in a 4-yard strike early in the third quarter, and Zach Tapia’s extra point made it 21-3.
Then the Mountaineers caught the Highlands defense off-guard with two TD runs by feature back Germaine Daniels, the latter from 51 yards out. WIth 12:13 left in regulation, WSCU had drawn within 21-17.
Western had reached the Highlands 47 when Kanneh intercepted Duboski. Four plays later, Lewis hooked up with Davis from the Mountaineer 13.
Then, after forcing a punt, NMHU drove down field for a Tapia field goal try. He’d missed early but this time nailed the kick from 33 yards away.
Lewis completed 25 of 50 passes for 361 yards and four touchdowns. Davis nabbed seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Highlands held the Mountaineers to 267 yards (170 rushing and 97 passing). Jared Koster led the Cowboys with 15 tackles and a sack. DiAmaal Holmes had 12 stops, and Devin Howard contributed seven tackles, a fumble recovery, and a sack.
With Colorado State-Pueblo’s 45-38 overtime win over Chadron State on Saturday, NMHU (5-1 overall, 4-0 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) is now tied with the ThunderWolves for first place in the league.
The Cowboys visit Adams State (4-2, 2-2) on Saturday.