Tucson, AZ — The bands, the national anthem, and some crazy parachuting individuals opened the 3rd annual Arizona Bowl in style.
That’s college football folks. . . You can’t ask for anything more!
On the field turf inside the gorgeous confines of Arizona Stadium, the Aggies and Aggies buckled up their chin straps for some good old fashioned pigskin fun. But before some really good football broke out, Utah State (Mountain West Conference) started the contest with a hideous looking kickoff out of bounds. Yes, a penalty on the very first play of the game. C’mon, Dominik Eberle! Stinkin’ kickers. And why would a kicker don jersey No. 62? Clearly, Mr. Eberle is living in another world altogether. By the way, he shanked several field goal tries in the game as well.
With the opening drive of the game, seniors stepped-up big for New Mexico State (Sun Belt Conference). Senior quarterback Tyler Rogers and senior tailback Larry Rose III helped the Aggies matriculate down the field with a fantastic mix of running and passing. NMSU had to settle for a 23-yard chip-shot field goal to end the drive, but Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rose had their hands all up in the cookie jar.
What happened next in back-to-back plays was something to behold. On the ensuing kickoff, Utah State’s Savon Scarver found a crease along the right side, and waved goodbye as he raced for six — a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to give Utah State an early 7-3 lead. With the momentum now on their side, USU fell asleep on the following kickoff. There was a hole the size of Utah up the middle, and Jason Huntley did the rest with reservations for six — a 100-yard kickoff return for the score. It was hole, jet, house job for Mr. Huntley. How about a 10-7 game with 10:47 still remaining on the first quarter clock?
New Mexico State fans were causing a ruckus below that resonated right up to the press box. Yup, I could certainly feel their energy shaking my buttocks in my slightly uncomfortable chair. On this Friday night, a Arizona Bowl record 39,132 fans were in attendance.
Rogers looked poised at moments during the game while slinging a handful of sweet dimes, but he also looked rattled as well. USU was doing a stellar job of getting pressure on the seasoned senior, forcing him to make some ill-advised throws. Tyler struggled overall against a strong Utah State secondary, going 29-for-54 for a miniscule 191 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
I didn’t expect USU freshman quarterback Jordan Love to have much success in this one. However, the young pup gave the Aggies a lift with 254 passing yards while reaching career-highs in both completions and attempts (25-44). And unusually, the Utah State running attack had a hard time getting going early with senior running back LaJuan Hunt getting just 7 touches for 32 yards heading into the final 30:00. I was scratching my head with Hunt’s number of touches compared to Love’s 33 passing attempts at the time, only a handful of minutes into the second half. Are you serious? Talk about changing what you did the entire season. Obviously, USU was afraid to run the darn pigskin down NMSU’s throats. Of course, you have to give NMSU big props for tackling loudly with textbook technique. Conversely, USU was laying the lubber as well. Goodness!
Deadlocked at 13 apiece at the half and with 13:28 remaining in regulation, Utah State pushed the score to 20-13. After a shanked punt by NMSU sophomore punter Peyton Theisler, USU used a dump-off pass from Love to Hunt, setting up LaJuan’s Nestea Plunge from 1-yard out to give Utah State the lead. Did I mention in my preview that the last time NMSU played in a bowl game was 1960? Indeed, I did. They happened to lose that Sun Bowl 20-13 to the hands of — you guessed it — Utah State. Ouch, babe!
After all of the pass attempts in this game, New Mexico State and Utah State finally decided to establish some type of running attack. My man, LaJuan, ended the game with 20 carries for 133 yards and that one trip to the heezy. Consequently, Rose III finished with 16 touches for 132 yards and one touchdown. A critically important TD, to say the least.
With 6:31 left, Rogers connected with his stud wide receiver, Jaleel Scott. Mr. Scott made a sensational play on the football, controlling the pigskin with the ball of his left foot barely inbounds in the front left corner of the end zone.
How about this grab against the Arizona State Sun Devils early in the season?
That knotted it at 20, and this Aggie showdown ended 20-20 with a ticket for overtime college football. Love it or hate it, each team gets the pigskin from their own 25-yard line.
NMSU won the overtime toss, and obviously elected to play defense first. While I’m watching all of this unhold, I’m thinking to myself — if you’re USU, you can’t settle for a field goal. And that’s exactly what happened. Oh, poor Mr. Eberle. On his 29-yard FG attempt in OT, Eberle ended up doinking the right post. Even though I razzed him earlier, I truly felt bad for the kid. Okay. . . Now, it was NMSU with a chance to break a nearly 60-year-old bowl drought.
New Mexico State didn’t disappoint, wisely handing it off to Larry Rose III. The dynamic running back finished things off with a straight ballin’ out, walk-off rushing touchdown to send NMSU faithful inside of Arizona Stadium into an absolute frenzy. Wow!
Final Score: NMSU 26- USU 20
Offensive MVP: Larry Rose III
Goodnight from Tucson, AZ. It was a fantastic ride.