Aggies hadn’t played a bowl game since defeating Utah State in the Sun Bow in 1960, and this time is was 26-20 in Tucson as their joyful fans stormed the field
By Arnie Leshin
As soon as senior Larry Rose III crossed the goal line, Aggie fans were already out of their seats, hugging, cheering, laughing, all making their way to the field.
It was almost as if they had rehearsed this, but as far as that is from the truth, it’s just been 57 years of frustration. From a 20-13 Sun Bowl win over Utah State in 1960 to Friday night’s 26-20 triumph over, yes, Utah State, in the Arizona Bowl played in Tucson, home of the Wildcats.
And so it was what it was, a rush to the field for the delirious New Mexico State fans who purchased 40,000 game tickets for the ride from Las Cruces to there. It was worth it because who knows whether they stormed the field in the 1960 contest.
That’s a long time to win a bowl game, and a long time to be invited to one.
Not only that, but a longer time for the final whistle to sound as the Aggies and Utah State had to include an overtime.
Utah State went first and on fourth down brought in Dominik Eberle to boot a 29-yard goal. When the ball hit the right upright post, the NMSU sideline reacted like it was now its game to win. Ditto its fans.
And so on a third down and 7, the Aggies handed the ball to their leading scorer Rose, and he sped untouched into the end zone 29 yards away. That’s when the celebration really began, that’s when the New Mexico State crowd knew it had officially defeated Utah State again, and knew the field was the place to be.
Event security just stepped aside, allowing this. It was a long time coming, but not many of these Aggie fans were even born yet in 1960, especially the students.
Their team finished 7-6 and qualified for the bowl by putting a 6-6 regular-season record together.
Utah State, which finished at 6-7, scored first when Savon Scarver returned a kickoff 76 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. The point-after was good, and on the ensuing kickoff, the Aggies’Jason Huntley sped 100 yard for the TD. After the PAT, it was quickly 7-7.
But exciting big plays like these didn’t exist again as the fourth quarter began. A wobbly, short punt by New Mexico State’s Payton Theisler gave Utah State good field position, and took the lead when Lajuan Hunt scored from the 1.
But back came the Aggies again. Quarterback Tyler Rogers, who had an impressive season, was not having a good day in Arizona. But now he took the team 69 yards in eight plays, capping it with a 11-yard touchdown pass to Jaleel Scott that tied it at 20, this after NMSU got a break when the video review overturned the initial call that ruled Scott was out of bounds.
Rogers, who was second nationally with 347 yards per game, threw for 191 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.
While the New Mexico State nation was counting the almost six decades as the years went by, Utah State had no such problem, going to eight more bowl games, including six of the last seven, after the 1960 defeat.
But there was nothing like that for the Aggies, for they went into a bowl-less tailspin, finishing with a losing record 44 times since that bowl game. They had 14 straight losing seasons, including a 0-12 record in 2005.
But coming in here as the underdog, New Mexico State did well, and looked confident doing so, Following the back-to-back touchdown kickoffs, it received a pair of field goals from Dylan Brown, while Eberle made two and missed two.
The third quarter was one of quality defensive stops, and when neither team could find the end zone again, the overtime appeared.
Going second is usually what teams want, and the Aggies were no exception. When Utah State missed the field goal, New Mexico State quickly took the field and its winning TD brought the house down, or rather brought the fans down for this long-awaited celebration on the field of play.
NOTES: Utah State did not have much luck with its special teams, but came away with 441 yards of offense and bottled up Rogers most of the time.
Both teams struggled on third downs, combing 5 of 40 – Utah State 1 for 18 and New Mexico State 4 for 22. The teams got off a combined 20 punts.
Of their seniors, the Aggies will have big holes to replace, and that includes Rose and Rogers.