In overtime, 2015 All-American Larry Rose III rushed for a 21-yard touchdown to give New Mexico State a 26-20 victory over Utah State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, the crimson Aggies’ first bowl game since defeating Utah State in the 1960 Sun Bowl. Rose, named Most Valuable Player of the game, rushed for 142 yards, added 48 receiving yards, and was the Aggies’ punt returner.
The crowd of 39,132, largely partisan for New Mexico State because of pent-up enthusiasm caused by the Aggies’ 57-year bowl drought and the relatively short 275-mile distance from Las Cruces, joined the NM State team on the field to celebrate the victory. Rose’s thirty-seventh career rushing touchdown brought him into a tie for the New Mexico State record with James “Preacher” Pilot, who played from 1961-63.
As has happened several times earlier in the season, the Aggies had to overcome a deficit to win. Early in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 13, punter Payton Theisler shanked a thirteen-yard punt giving Utah State the ball at the NMSU 24. The blue Aggies got the ball to sturdy back LaJuan Hunt on all four plays of the scoring drive. His one-yard touchdown run gave USU a 20-13 advantage.
After an NMSU punt, USU appeared ready to seal the win with a field goal try by kicker Dominik Eberle, who had only missed two field goals in the first twelve games this season (one of those was blocked). The try went wide to the left for the third time in the game.
With 10:18 to play, Aggie quarterback Tyler Rogers went to work at the Aggie 31 yard line. A 19-yard strike to Jaleel Scott was followed by a 14-yard reception by Rose. Several rushing plays moved the ball to the USU 21. On a fourth-and-six play, Jonathan Boone made a first down catch at the ten yard line. Rogers hit his favorite end zone target, Scott, near the left boundary.
The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but a lengthy review reversed the call to a touchdown as replay showed Scott landed in bounds. Dylan Brown’s point after tied the score at 20. Each team forced two punts during the remainder of regulation. USU ran out the eighteen seconds left on the clock for their final possession to send the game to an extra period.
College overtimes give each team possession at the opponent’s 25-yard line until one team outscores the other. New Mexico State won the overtime coin toss, electing to defend first. Utah State ran six plays, including two incomplete passes to the end zone and a twelve yard first-down run by Bryce Roberts, before Eberle’s 29-yard field goal try clanked the right upright and fell away for his fourth miss of the game. Rogers’ four-yard scramble preceded Rose’s game winning dash.
The first three quarters were dominated by defensive and special team play. In the first half, each team scored two field goals, a kickoff return touchdown and a conversion. After Utah State kicked off out of bounds, the Aggies drove 59 yards in 12 plays, including a 21-yard pass from Tyler Rogers to Larry Rose III, an 11-yarder to Jonathan Boone, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Utah State on a Rogers scramble leading to a 23-yard Dylan Brown field goal. Then fireworks ensued. The Aggie kickoff was returned 96 yards by Savon Scarver for a USU touchdown. The following USU kickoff was returned 100 yards by Jason Huntley for an Aggie, breaking Scarver’s Arizona Bowl newly-established record. Brown’s PAT made the score 10-7 Aggies.
After the teams exchanged punts, USU attempted a fake punt, resulting in a fumble recovered by the Aggies at the USU 35. After a nine yard run by Rose, Rogers’ next throw was intercepted by USU’s David Woodward at the USU two yard line. The USU drive started on the nineteen after USU’s fourth penalty of the quarter. A 63-yard drive led to the second quarter beginning with an Eberle 35-yard field goal, knotting the score at 10.
Keyed by a Rose forty yard run, the Aggies responded with a nine play, 56-yard drive capped by a 33-yard Brown field goal, putting the Aggies back into the lead, 13-10. The second quarter was largely consumed by six punts and a missed USU field goal try. New Mexico State’s final drive of the half began with 75 seconds to play. Rose ran for 21 yards, but was stripped of the ball, giving USU the ball for the final 42 seconds; the blue Aggies drove 19 yards for a game-tying field goal as the first half ended with the score tied at 13.
Like the first, the second half started with an out-of-bounds kickoff, followed by two punts and a second field goal miss by Dominik Eberle on a 49-yard try. New Mexico State lined up for another punt, but snapped the ball to tight end (and former quarterback) Conner Cramer who lateraled to Isaiah Lottie for a first down.
On the next play, Rogers pass was tipped into the air three times before Dallin Leavitt intercepted it for USU. Three plays later, Aggie Terrill Hanks forced and recovered a fumble of Jordan Love’s attempted option pitch. Three more defensive stops and punts ended the third.
New Mexico State finished the season 7-6, its fifth winning season since 1960. Doug Martin joins the legendary Warren Woodson as the only New Mexico State coaches to win a bowl game. Rogers completed 29 of his 54 passes for 191 yards, considerably less than his season average, with two interceptions. Jonathan Boone tied Rose for the team receiving lead with 48 yards. Defensively, Leon McQuaker paced the Aggies with thirteen tackles, followed by Terrill Hanks ten (with a fumble recovery). Dalton Herrington and Jaden Wright each had nine tackles.
Utah State’s record falls to 6-7. Quarterback Jordan Love completed 25 of his 44 passes for 254 yards. Ron’quavion Tarver caught eight balls for 97 yards. Hunt paced the blue Aggie rushers, gaining 133 yards. Chase Christiansen had eight tackles and a fumble recovery; Dallin Leavitt had seven to go with his interception.
New Mexico State football becomes an FBS independent after contributing a win to the Sun Belt Conference’s 4-1 record in 2017 bowls. With the season’s end, both the Aggies and the Idaho Vandals leave the Sun Belt after a four-year trial membership ended without either school receiving a further invitation. Idaho football returns to FBS and membership in the Big Sky Conference in 2018. Neither the Aggies (3-0-1) nor the Vandals (3-0) has ever lost a bowl game.