The Abilene Christian Wildcats needed a miracle to pull off a miracle. And unbelievably, they almost got it.
But instead of a miraculous win Saturday night, the Wildcats suffered a heartbreaking 34-29 loss to New Mexico State on a cool night at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
The win for NMSU is the program's first since Aug. 30, 2012, when the Aggies beat Sacramento State, 49-19, as the Aggies snapped an 18-game losing streak. The Aggies, who play at the NCAA Division I FBS level, haven't beaten an FBS opponent since a 48-45 win over Fresno State on Nov. 12, 2011.
ACU, which is in its first season as NCAA Division I FCS independent, was playing its first FBS opponent since a 1980 game against Hawaii. The Wildcats haven't beaten a team at college football's highest level since a 1959 win over Texas-El Paso.
New Mexico State appeared to have put the game away with 2:32 to play when Maxwell Johnson's 18-yard field goal gave the Aggies a 34-22 lead. The Wildcats, however, wouldn't die as they moved 73 yards on 15 plays to a 5-yard touchdown pass from John David Baker to Charcandrick West on fourth down that made it 34-29 with 19 seconds to play.
ACU then recovered the onside kick, but the ball was moved back to its own 31-yard line after a personal foul penalty on Lynn Grady. After a hold on first down, the ball was moved back to the 21-yard line with nine seconds left in the game.
On the game's final play, Baker rolled out to his right and heaved the ball as far as he could. Monte Green-Avery caught a tipped ball in traffic, spun around and was about to be dragged down around the 20-yard line when he flipped the ball to Taylor Gabriel, who had open field in front of him.
The senior from Mesquite -- who set the ACU single-game record with 15 catches for a career-high 188 yards -- sprinted down the sideline for what looked like it was going to be a game-winning touchdown that would rival "The Play" by Cal in its 1982 win over Stanford. But just as it appeared that Gabriel would score, he was knocked out of bounds by Trashaun Nixon at the 6-yard line, leaving the Wildcats just short of a finish that would go down as the greatest in program history.
The Wildcats led 22-21 at halftime and going to the fourth quarter, but will look back at several plays in the third quarter that might have cost them a victory. After the ACU defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half, the offense moved crisply to the NMSU 26-yard line, thanks in large part to a 45-yard run by West.
But two false start penalties on Will Latu and one on Jonathan Parker moved ACU from second-and-2 at the 27-yard line to third-and-13 at the 37. Baker threw incomplete on third down and then pooched a punt into the end zone to give NMSU the ball at the 20.
The teams exchanged punts three times before ACU took over at its own 23-yard line with 3:44 left in the quarter. On second-and-14 after a sack, Baker hit Gabriel over the middle for 19 yards and what would have been a first down. But Gabriel lost the ball and Anthony Edwards fell on it at the ACU 39 to give the Aggies some momentum.
They were able to move the ball down to the ACU 12-yard line before being pushed back by a holding call, and on the first play of the fourth quarter they took a 24-22 lead on Johnson's 32-yard field goal.
After ACU went three-and-out on its next possession, NMSU put together an impressive 12-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Germi Morrison's 5-yard touchdown run to make it 31-22 with 7:41 to play.