Utah State entered Friday’s Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl as the favorite, and why not?
The Aggies had been here before, participating in four bowl games in the last five years.
For them it was business as usual.
Until they ran into a New Mexico State team that would not be denied its storybook ending.
The other Aggies were a team that wouldn’t give in. After all, it took them 57 years to get back to a bowl game and they weren’t about to return to Las Cruces without some hardware.
Every time Utah State tried to put the game away, something bad happened. The result — an overtime loss to college football’s Cinderella team.
“It was a great game, really came down to the wire,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “They made one more play than we did. Our kids fought and spilled their guts on the field. For that, it makes me proud as a coach.
“I felt we dominated today and played a great red-zone defense, a phenomenal red-zone defense, we moved the ball well and we ran the ball a lot better in the third and fourth. I really thought we had some momentum there, it was just a couple plays on third down and we didn’t make it.”
Quarterback Jordan Love completed 25 of 44 passes for 254 yards and no interceptions, while NMSU’s Tyler Rogers went 29 of 52 for 191 yards and two interceptions.
Utah State couldn’t capitalize on either pick. One came with 9:05 left in the third quarter, Utah State’s Dallin Leavitt intercepted a Tyler Rogers pass on the NMSU 42-yard line. Two plays later, Utah State was on the 1-yard line and a pitch from quarterback Jordan Love to LaJuan Hunt was tipped and recovered by Terrill Hanks.
“We had the right look to the edge and New Mexico State made a great play,” said Hunt.
And, then there was that field goal kicking game. Usually, a spot-on kicker, Dominik Eberle, who during the season only missed two attempts, missed four Friday night. This included the chip shot in overtime that clanked off the post.
“He’s my kid and I’m sticking with him,” said Wells. “He’s my field goal kicker. I love that kid, and he’s been really consistent all year. Was I surprised? Yes. Was I disappointed in him? Not one bit.”
Even New Mexico State coach Doug Martin was surprised with Eberle’s misses from 44, 48, 49 and 29 yards.
“He is automatic from about anywhere,” said Martin. “Unfortunately for them he had an off night. He is an NFL kicker.”
Utah State had another shot to pull away with 12:19 left in regular. Hunt broke a run for 58 yards into New Mexico State territory, although he thought it could’ve gone for even more.
“That play is hurting me,” he said. “I left a lot of yards on the field.”
An incomplete pass and an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty backed Utah State up to NMSU’s 37-yard line. Eberle then attempted a 48-yarder, which he missed.
“It was fun getting stops like that,” said linebacker David Woodward. “That’s something that our defense can do when we all do our job. That’s something we did for a good part of the game, but we didn’t make enough plays.”