PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Fourteen points down last week. Trailing by 21 this week.
Overcoming big deficits hasn’t been a problem for Rutgers lately, especially with Janarion Grant coming to the rescue with big plays.
The senior wide receiver threw for a touchdown and had a go-ahead 69-yard punt return for another score as Rutgers rallied from an early 21-point deficit and defeated New Mexico 37-28 on Saturday.
Halfback Robert Martin rushed for a career-high 169 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown, and Chris Laviano threw a 75-yard scoring pass to Jawuan Harris in helping the Scarlet Knights (2-1) overcome a big deficit for the second straight week.
“Man, Janarion’s different,” said Martin, who averaged 8.0 yards. “I love going out there with him, competing with him. Even at practice man, he wants to win at everything he does and I like that because that’s how I am and just knowing that when he gets the ball in his hands he can take it the distance.”
David Bonagura kicked three second-half field goals, including two in the final 5:30, in keeping new coach Chris Ash unbeaten at home.
Daryl Chestnut scored on a 19-yard run, Austin Apodaca threw a 36-yard TD pass to Patrick Reed and Lamar Jordan scored on a 52-yard run in giving the Lobos (1-2) a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter. Richard McQuarley scored on a 22-yard fourth-quarter run to get New Mexico within 31-28, but Bonagura added two field goals to put the game out of reach.
Grant had three touchdowns in rallying the Scarlet Knights against Howard last week, and he had a hand in three scores against the Lobos, with a late 33-yard punt return setting up the final field goal.
“We talked about it after the game, we’ve got have a maniacal attitude of doing your job and doing the little things right,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “I feel better about our team right now than I did last Saturday from a standpoint of fighting against a good opponent. Again, we walk out of here with our heads held high and we have a chance to be a good team.”
Grant’s biggest play was the punt return 1:04 before halftime with the score tied at 21-all.
Grant fielded a Corey Bojoquez punt at his 31, went left and then reversed his field and went 69 yards down the right side for his six touchdown of the season. It was his third career punt return for a score and eighth overall. He has scored on five kickoff returns.
NEW MEXICO: The Lobos could have been 3-0 heading into a bye week. After beating South Dakota, New Mexico blew a 31-22 fourth-quarter lead after New Mexico State last weekend and gave away an even bigger margin this week. The Lobos had a chance to rally late last week and game up short. They came back from a 10-point deficit this week and also came up short.
RUTGERS: With the Big Ten Conference season starting next week, Rutgers has to get off to better starts if it wants to be competitive. The Scarlet Knights fell behind No. 8 Washington 24-0 and trailed in both games at home.
“Can’t say enough about our players, for the second week in a row, we come out of the gate and we get down but nobody flinched,” Ash said. “Everybody believes in themselves, in each other, in our plan, and we just kept going. We made the plays that we needed to.”
BULLET: Ash is going to be second guessed after inserting quarterback Zach Allen into the game in the fourth quarter with Rutgers leading 31-28 with 7:48 to play. There seemed to be nothing wrong with Laviano. The Scarlet Knights got a 33-yard field goal from Bonagura but that was set by an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Lobos.
NEW MEXICO: The Lobos have a bye week and face San Jose State at home in their Mountain West Conference opener on Oct. 1.
RUTGERS: The Scarlet Knights play their third straight home game and face No.13 Iowa in their Big Ten Conference opener on Sept. 24.
AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.org