Saturday: 13th Annual New Mexico Bowl
Teams: Utah State vs. North Texas
Time: Noon MDT
Location: Dreamstyle Stadium
Line: Utah State favored by 7 1/2
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda either deserves a lot of credit or is continually fortunate to draw great matchups.
Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is one of the few people to recognize the potentially fantastic matchup between the 10-2 Utah State Aggies and the 9-3 North Texas Mean Green on Saturday at Dreamstyle Stadium.
Davison ranked the matchup as the No. 10-ranked bowl game among the 39 college football postseason contests.
And with the advantage of being the first bowl game of the postseason (this year, it’s the first bowl game between FBS schools), the New Mexico Bowl typically stands to earn some recognition for a good product on the field.
And even though some of the teams involved haven’t been the marquee college football schools, the game usually has delivered.
The 2008 New Mexico Bowl between Colorado State and Fresno State featured Rams running back Gartrell Johnson going off for 285 rushing yards and 375 yards from scrimmage as CSU rallied from a 28-20 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Bulldogs 40-35.
The 2015 New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and home team New Mexico had more than 1,000 yards of offense combined. The Lobos tried to rally from a 35-17 deficit and came up just short in a 45-37 loss.
The 2007 edition wasn’t as competitive between UNM and Nevada, but Rocky Long’s defense did pitch a shutout against Wolfpack quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a 23-0 decision. The game broke a string of 329 consecutive contests in which Nevada had scored, and Lobo quarterback Donovan Porterie threw for 354 yards. Imagine that.
And those games are just the honorable mentions.
Here are the top 3 New Mexico Bowl games in the event’s 13-year history.
No. 3: 2012 — Arizona 49, Nevada 48
To this day, the Wolfpack have to be wondering how on earth they lost this game.
Nevada bolted out to a 21-0 lead. The Mountain West representative also led 45-28 going into the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack’s pistol-option offense under then-coach Chris Ault was humming with 403 rushing yards and a complementary passing game of 256 yards.
Wildcats quarterback and New Mexico Bowl Offensive Most Valuable Player Matt Scott, however, caught fire in the fourth quarter with three touchdown passes in the final 15 minutes.
He hit a 63-yarder to wide receiver Austin Hill just seconds into the fourth to cut Nevada’s lead to 45-35.
The Wolfpack, however, still seemed in control when it got the ball back on the Arizona 37 after a punt with 5:44 left. But the drive stalled at the Wildcats 8 after Arizona stuffed a Nevada run for a 2-yard loss, forcing a 25-yard field goal with 1:48 left.
The Wildcats then engineered a six-play, 75-yard drive that started off with Nevada causing a fumble of a Scott screen pass to Hill. But Arizona teammate Garrick Wharton recovered.
Two pass interference penalties against Nevada assisted UA down the field, and Scott hit Hill on a 2-yard pass to cut the lead to 48-42 with 42 second left in the game.
Arizona miraculously recovered the enusing onsides kick. Scott followed with passes of 28 and 21 yards to the Wolfpack 2. He then found Terrence Miller on a 2-yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave the Wildcats a 49-48 lead with 19 seconds left.
Nevada was intercepted on its first play after the kickoff, and Arizona celebrated the stunning comeback victory.
And that game was No. 3.
No. 2: 2013 — Colorado State 48, Washington State 45
The following year’s game to the Arizona-Nevada classic had a similar buildup.
Coach Mike Leach’s Cougars jumped out to a 14-0 lead and appeared on their way to a rout after QB Connor Halliday’s 3-yard touchdown pass with 2:48 left in the half gave Washington State a 35-13 lead.
The Rams, however, were resilient the entire game, beginning with the end of the first half.
They responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive and scored on Kapri Bibbs’ 1-yard run to cut WSU’s lead to 35-20 with 59 seconds left in the half. The CSU defense then forced a three-and-out, driving the Cougars 11 yards backward in just 29 seconds, and got the ball back at the WSU 40 with 30 seconds left.
Rams QB Garrett Grayson drove his team to the Cougars 13, leading to a field goal as time expired to cut the deficit to 35-23 in a half the Pac-12 school dominated.
After a Washington State field goal opened the second half, Bibbs exploded for a 75-yard run to shrink WSU’s lead to 38-30.
Both defenses appeared to catch up to the offenses over the next four possessions. Washington State could not run the ball, finishing the game with minus-10 yards on the ground.
CSU forced two straight punts, but the Cougars’ defense forced a huge fumble on a Jordon Vadon 17-yard reception at the WSU 34 to end a Rams threat. CSU then punted on its next possession.
The Cougars seemingly regained control early in the fourth quarter with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Halliday’s 22-yard strike to Isiah Myers with 9:35 left in the game — Halliday’s bowl-game, record-tying sixth TD pass of the day — pushed Washington State’s lead to 45-30.
After the teams traded two more punts, CSU got the ball back on its 28 with 4:13 left. Grayson, who finished with 39 passing yards and two scores, engineered a nine-play, 72-yard drive in just 85 seconds. His 12-yard pass to Vadon with 2:52 left made it 45-37, Cougars.
Washington State’s rushing woes continued as Jeremiah Laufasa fumbled on the WSU 33 with 1:51 left, just after the Cougars had made a first down. CSU capitalized by going the 33 yards in eight plays, capped by Bibbs’ 1-yard touchdown run with 33 seconds left.
The Rams tied the game with a 2-point conversion, thanks to a Statue of Liberty play in which Grayson took snap, fakes a throw to the right and then handed the ball off left to Donnell Anderson, who beat the defense to the goal line.
Good fortune wasn’t done with CSU. On the kickoff, Washington State’s Teondray fumbled at the Cougars’ 24.
The Rams recovered, ran the clock down to one play, a 41-yard Jared Roberts field goal as time expired, capping an 18-point outburst in the final 2:52 as CSU stunned WSU 48-45.
And that was only No. 2.
No. 1: 2009 — Wyoming 35, Fresno State 28, 2OT
This game was more competitive throughout than the other two games on this list, but it also went into the fourth quarter with the eventual losing team seemingly in control.
Fresno State workhorse running back Ryan Mathews, who rushed 31 times for 144 yards in the game, scored his second touchdown of the day with a 5-yard run at the 13:59 mark to give the Bulldogs a 28-17 lead, the biggest advantage by either side during the see-saw affair.
The Cowboys calmly answered, marching 72 yards on seven plays. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels initially kept the drive alive on a third-and-13 at the Wyoming 44 by scrambling to elude the Fresno State rush and hitting wide receiver Zach Bolger for 30 yards to the Bulldogs 26.
Carta-Samuels found David Leonard in the end zone three plays later for a touchdown. The QB then hooked up with Greg Boling for a 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 28-25.
The Bulldogs, however, quickly reclaimed momentum with a 39-yard kickoff return and in three snaps had the ball at the Wyoming 30.
Mathews picked up four yards on the next play but coughed up the football at the Cowboys 26, giving the Mountain West team new life against the then-Western Athletic Conference foe.
Wyoming then embarked on an improbable, 19-play, 54-yard drive that consumed 7:48 of the clock. The Cowboys converted not one, not two, but three fourth-down attempts along the way — the first at Wyoming’s own 34.
Carta-Samuels completed a pair of fourth-down passes, sandwiched around an 8-yard scramble on a fourth-and-2 at the Cowboys 45. Ian Watts kicked a 37-yard field goal left with 20 seconds left to tie the score at 28 and send the game into overtime.
In the first overtime, the Bulldogs received the ball first and prompted marched the ball 24 yards on six plays to Wyoming 1 and had a first down.
Somehow, the Cowboys defense kept Fresno State out of the end zone. They stuffed Mathews for no gain on first and second down. The Bulldogs tried a quarterback sneak with Ryan Coburn on third down to no avail.
Rather than kick a field goal, Fresno State Pat Hill gambled on fourth down and sent the offense back out onto the field for fourth down, but Wyoming again bottled up Mathews before he could reach the goal line.
The brown-and-yellow clad sideline and its fan base were going crazy over the goal-line stand.
All the Cowboys needed was a field goal for the win on its OT possession. Wyoming coach Dave Christiansen played it conservatively, keeping the ball in Carta-Samuels hands for three runs that moved the ball just 3 yards to the Fresno State 22.
Watts subsequently missed the game-winning, 40-yard field goal wide left to force double OT.
Wyoming got the ball first in the second OT but quickly found itself in a third-and-10 at the FS 25. The Bulldogs drew a pass interference penalty to keep the Cowboys drive alive.
Wyoming returned the favor with a holding penalty and faced a third-and-goal from the 13. Carta-Samuels had one more trick up his sleeve, finding Leonard for a 13-yard touchdown and a 35-28 lead.
On Fresno State’s possession, the staunch Cowboys defense stuffed Mathews again and allowed only a 5-yard gain over a pair of passes on second and third down.
On fourth down, the Wyoming D stepped up one more time, forcing a Coburn fumble. Fresno State recovered but well short of the first down.