2018 Arizona Bowl Recap
This year’s NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl featured the Aggies of New Mexico State against the Aggies of Utah State. Both teams came into the matchup with 6-6 records and it certainly showed in the way both teams played. Turnovers plagued both teams as the game featured five turnovers. Neither team had success on third down. New Mexico State went 2-18 while Utah State went 4-22. Field position and field goals were the name of the game and tipped the scales in New Mexico State’s favor, 26-20 in overtime.
Starting Out Hot
The game seemed like it might end up a shootout in the first quarter. New Mexico State drove down the field on the first drive but was held to a redzone field goal by Utah State. On the ensuing kickoff, Utah State freshman wide receiver Savon Scarver took the kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Not to be undone, New Mexico sophomore running back Jason Huntley returned his kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown on the very next play.
Middling Middle Quarters
For the next two quarters, the game was decidedly average. The second quarter featured three alternating field goals, sending the teams into the halftime tied at 13. Neither team scored in the third quarter. Both teams struggled with turnovers. The Aggies of New Mexico turned the ball over three teams, twice through the air. While their Utah State Aggies counterparts lost two fumbles.
Utah State, in particular, was fortunate in the second and third quarters. Utah State Head Coach Matt Wells opted to fake a punt deep in their own territory midway through the third quarter. It failed, giving New Mexico State great field position. Fortunately for Wells and his Aggies, New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers promptly threw in an interception.
Utah State was also plagued by special teams miscues during the middle two quarters. Utah State sophomore kicker and Lou Groza finalist, Dominik Eberle, missed field goal attempts of 44 and 48 yards. Eberle missed two all season leading into the game. Again, Utah State’s luck held as New Mexico State could not capitalize on either miss.
More of the Same?
Utah State gave fans hope of a more exciting final quarter earlier in the fourth. After forcing New Mexico State quickly into a three and out, Utah State capitalized on a 13-yard punt by Peyton Theisler. Utah State’s LaJuan Hunt did the lion’s share of the work a 24-yard touchdown drive. However, they failed to potentially close the door on New Mexico State when Eberle missed his third field goal on a 49-yard attempt two drives later.
Following the miss, New Mexico State put together their best drive since the opener. Rogers went 5 for 7, marching his Aggies 69 yards down the field capped off with a 11 yard pass to wide receiver Jaleel Scott.
With the score tied at 20, neither team failed to score in regulation. Each set of Aggies punted twice more in the final six minutes, sending both teams into their first overtime of the season.
First Time for Everything
Unfortunately for the Utah State fans, overtime had a familiar narrative for their Aggies. After winning the coin toss, Utah State’s offense struggled and Eberle took the field to bail his team out. He missed on a 29-yard field goal. On the following drive, New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III, who had a relatively quiet night, scored on 21-yard rush to deliver his Aggies their first bowl victory in the program’s 57-year existence.
Both teams should be proud of their work this season. Despite the loss in the bowl game, Utah State doubled their win total from last season. With freshman quarterback Jordan Love returning next year, the future is bright for Utah State.
With the Arizona Bowl under their belt, this New Mexico State squad will be talked about for years to come in Las Cruces. As of now, Head Coach Doug Martin does not appear to be departing for greener pastures. However, New Mexico State’s leading passer, rusher, and receiver are all seniors. Next year will determine if Martin’s success is a fluke or the result of a strong foundation.