TUCSON, Ariz. -
New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime on a 21-yard run after Utah State sophomore placekicker Dominik Eberle hit the right upright from 29 yards out, lifting the NewMags to a 26-20 victory in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Friday night at Arizona Stadium.
A Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl-record 39,132 fans witnessed the showdown between former conference rivals. New Mexico State improved to 2-0 in bowl games against Utah State. Prior to Friday, the last time these two teams met in the postseason was in the 1960 Sun Bowl, with NMSU posting a 20-13 win in El Paso, Texas.
Utah State, which played in its sixth bowl game in the past seven seasons, finished its fifth year under head coach Matt Wells with an overall mark of 6-7. This was the fourth bowl game Wells has coached in since taking over the helm of the program, which is two more than any other coach in school history.
Senior running back LaJuan Hunt capped his Utah State career by rushing for 133 yards – the most yardage by an Aggie this season – and one touchdown on 20 carries. His 1-yard touchdown run with 13:28 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the designated visitors a 20-13 lead.
Hunt finished his career with 1,846 yards rushing, the 11th-most in school history, and 18 touchdowns, which is tied for the 10th-most.
New Mexico State (7-6) tied it at 20-apiece on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Rogers to Jaleel Scott with 6:31 remaining. Rogers completed 29-of-54 passes for 191 yards. Rose led the NewMags in both rushing and receiving as he had 142 yards on 16 carries on the ground, to go along with six receptions for 48 yards.
NMSU entered the game ranked fourth in the nation averaging 352.6 passing yards per game but Utah State limited the NewMags to 191 yards – 161.6 below their season average.
The navy-cladded Aggies shined defensively as they forced three turnovers, including interceptions by redshirt freshman linebacker David Woodward and senior safety Dallin Leavitt, along with a fumble recovery by junior linebacker Chase Christiansen.
Christiansen led USU with eight tackles, including 1.0 tackles for loss. Leavitt added seven stops, while Woodward had four stops and three pass breakups.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Love was 25-of-44 for 254 yards. His favorite target was junior wide receiver Ron’quavion Tarver, who caught eight passes for 97 yards.
Utah State had numerous chances to put more points on the board, but four missed field goals and a turnover in the red zone after having a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line spelled doom.
The first half started with a bang as the two teams combined to score 17 points in less than a one-minute span, courtesy of a field goal and back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns.
New Mexico State’s Dylan Brown opened the scoring with a 23-yard field goal to give the designated visitors a 3-0 lead with 11:15 remaining in the first quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, freshman wide receiver Savon Scarver returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, making it 7-3 for USU just 14 seconds later.
Scarver’s kickoff return for a touchdown was the first-ever in a bowl game for Utah State and tied for the sixth-longest in school history.
However, USU’s lead was short-lived as NMSU’s Jason Huntley returned Eberle’s ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the white-cladded Aggies a 10-7 lead with 10:47 to go in the first.
Those were the only two touchdowns of the first half, though. Eberle tied the score at 10-all just five seconds into the second quarter with a 35-yard field goal, then New Mexico State regained the lead on a 33-yard field goal with 11:35 left in the opening half.
Brown booted a 33-yard field goal to give the NewMags a 13-10 lead with 11:35 left in the half, but Eberle countered with a 30-yard field goal as time expired on the second quarter, sending the two teams into the break deadlocked at 13-apiece.
This was a homecoming of sorts for three players that played in the game for Utah State. Senior offensive lineman Preston Brooksby, junior center Quin Ficklin and freshman defensive end Nami Tuitu’u are all from Arizona.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on Facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on Instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.
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