From bowl game eligibility to the historic win in Tucson, relive NMSU’s bowl win

New Mexico State University and bowl eligibility are two phrases Aggie fans have longed to mention in the same sentence. This season - win after win - those phrases earned their way into the minds of coaches, the offices of the athletic department and eventually, the sports media world, coming true with a game-ending touchdown against South Alabama in December 2017. 

Shortly after, the Aggies got the call – a matchup against Utah State in Tucson in the team’s first bowl game since 1960 at the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. We all know the outcome. Larry Rose III slides in the end zone in overtime to snag the victory, and the thousands-packed Aggie crowd (unapologetically) storms the field. 

It’s a day the Aggie football team will never forget. But for the community and the state of New Mexico, it will be an entire month-long celebration many will remember for lifetimes to come – a rally of support that united Aggies near and far in many ways.

THE INVITATION

We’re Going Bowling
After a neck-and-neck game against South Alabama, senior wide receiver Conner Cramer caught a final pass in the end zone to win the game 22-16. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Izaiah Lottie celebrates on the field with fans and teammates after the game.

The Community Steps Up
After earning an invitation to Tucson, several community leaders created special avenues for Aggie fans throughout Las Cruces to attend the historic game. Las Cruces City Manager Stuart C. Ed allowed employees a free day off for those traveling to Arizona. Donors and friends of NMSU contributed financially, offering free tickets to Las Cruces Public School employees and NMSU students who wanted to root on the Aggies. Classrooms with young Aggie fans showed their spirit, including these 5th graders at Mesilla Elementary School.

THE PRE-GAME PREP

Aggie Pride Band Shows Off
Thousands crowded downtown Tucson for the “Battle of the Bands" before the big game. The Aggie Pride Band performed in front of a loud and proud Aggie crowd.

Taking A Moment with Fans
The NMSU football team started the week off in Tucson by paying a special visit to some of their biggest fans at Diamond Children’s Medical Center.

THE WIN

Just over four minutes into the game, sophomore running back Jason Huntley answers Utah State’s returned kickoff with his own, driving 100 yards to the end zone for a 10-7 lead.

Jeremiah Young led the NMSU captains on the field to the coin toss, continuing a tradition started by his mother Lori Paulson. She served as the team's honorary captain in 2015 while battling cancer before passing away months later. The team carries on her legacy and uses it as motivation to win.

Defensive Line Coach John Mumford huddles the team to talk strategy. The defense played a major role in the game led by junior linebacker Leon McQuaker who had 13 tackles, along with junior linebacker Terrill Hanks at 10, senior linebacker Dalton Herrington at nine and senior defensive back Jaden Wright at nine. A forced fumble recovered by redshirt sophomore linebacker Shane Jackson at Utah State’s 35-yard line mid-game shifted the momentum in favor of NMSU.

The catch that held breath hostage was a shot from redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Rogers to redshirt senior wide receiver Jaleel Scott, who kept his foot inches inside the inbounds line after several reviews of various camera angles, according to officials. The game was tied 20-20, leading to an overtime stint.

After missing a 28-yard field goal, Utah State’s defense needed to hold NMSU from scoring. But, senior running back Larry Rose III found a hole and sprinted 21 yards, winning the 2017 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, 26-20.

A celebration ensued as Rose III crossed the end zone with thousands of Aggie fans leaping the guard rails to storm the field jumping, screaming, smiling and enjoying the moment. It was the feeling of winning, ending the longest bowl-drought in college football history.

 

THE TROPHY COMES HOME

Las Cruces Celebrates
The celebration didn’t end in Tucson. Hundreds showed up at Plaza de Las Cruces in January 2018 to congratulate the entire team and see (and kiss) the trophy won for them and the entire community. The City of Las Cruces helped bus in fans to the event from around the city for free on the “Aggie Bowl Victory Bus.” Dozens of leaders, including Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, NMSU System Chancellor Garrey Carruthers, NMSU Regent Debra Hicks, NMSU Athletics Director Mario Moccia and Visit Tucson’s Brent DeRaad, all spoke about the impact this win had across the state of New Mexico. A similar celebration happened in “Aggie-querque” later in the month where hundreds enjoyed a visit from NMSU Athletics staff, the team and the trophy.

Football Success Fund Enhanced for Recruitment
With the help of more than 160 donors, Leslie Cervantes with the NMSU Foundation presented Head Coach Doug Martin with a check worth almost $42,000 raised through the university’s “Make a STATEment” crowdfunding platform. All of the donations support the team’s recruitment efforts as well as retaining the high-quality coaches that led the team to victory.

$24 Million Earned in Media Placements
This win shined light not only on the Aggie football team but also on the university itself. NMSU Marketing and Communications measured the earned media value of all the football sports coverage throughout December and January, not including major national spots with CBS Sports and ESPN. The Aggies’ success brought in $24 million worth of attention to the team, the university and one of the greatest stories in college football history that many will cherish for a lifetime.

Then and Now: 1960 Aggie Cheerleader

MaryJane Kennedy Lent (front left) in 1960 poses alongside her cheerleading teammates.

What a wonderful time we “old” Aggies had at the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl game and alumni tailgate in December. Since I was an NMSU Cheerleader at both the 1959 and 1960 Sun Bowl Games in El Paso, it was exciting for

Reunited from 1960 to now – Dave Thompson (left), MaryJane Kennedy Lent and Lonnie Terry.

me to attend the Arizona Bowl 57 years later.

I had the chance to reconnect with old classmates like 1960 football players Dave Thompson and Lonnie Terry.

When I was a student cheerleader on the field in the 1960 game, I knew so many in the stands and on the field. Now, as proud Aggie alumna years later, the atmosphere was very different but equally thrilling for me. The stadium was packed and spectators were excited and friendly. Even if we may not have met previously, we were all Aggies together cheering for our team.

MaryJane Kennedy Lent, ’61

Pervis Atkins leaves a legacy

One of the greatest players in the history of NMSU football passed away one week before the Aggies’ history-making win. Pervis Atkins was a running back on the 1959 and 1960 Sun Bowl Championship squads. 

Pervis Atkins, a key player on the 1960 NMSU football championship team, passed away one week before this year's history-making game.

After helping the Aggies to an undefeated season in 1960, he earned first-team All-America honors – a well-deserved award as he was known to handle many different duties on the field including kicking and returning along with lining up at tailback and tight end.

The Los Angeles Rams selected Atkins in the third round of the NFL draft in 1961. He played professionally for five seasons, including stints with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. 

In 2010, Atkins was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. A plaque with his name adorns the newly-renovated Allen Family Football Locker Room, alongside dozens of other successful Aggie football alumni.