New Mexico has a new holiday tradition. Since it's inception in 2006, the New Mexico Bowl has been played on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas at University Stadium on the University of New Mexico campus. The contest has pitted the Mountain West Conference against the Western Athletic Conference in the state's only annually nationally televised sporting event.
The New Mexico Bowl is the culmination of a collective effort of people with a vision in a state on the move. While the idea of playing a Division I College Football Bowl Game in Albuquerque had been around for a while, the push to make the New Mexico Bowl a reality started around 2005. The New Mexico Sports Authority, an agency created by governor Bill Richardson, saw the potential to make this event happen. After researching some of the game's most exciting collegiate bowls, the Sports Authority met with the commissioners of the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences.
A contest between these two leagues seems natural. The WAC has a long-standing history in this part of the country, especially the state of New Mexico. UNM was one of the WAC's original members, helping establish the nation's sixth oldest Division I-A conference in 1962. The Lobos withdrew membership in 1999, along with Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, San Diego State, Utah, UNLV and Wyoming, in order to form the Mountain West Conference. But the state of New Mexico didn't lose it's representation in the WAC for long, as New Mexico State, the only other Division I college in New Mexico, became a member in 2005.
With the MWC and WAC interested in committing to the game, the Sports Authority, the University of New Meico and the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau worked together along with ESPN Regional Television (ERT) to put a deal together. ERT, which owns five other bowl games (Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, Sheraton Hawai`i Bowl, Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl, PapaJohns.com Bowl, and St. Petersburg Bowl) assumed ownership of the New Mexico Bowl and it was licensed by the NCAA Certification Committee in April 2006.
While the 2006 New Mexico Bowl was the first Division I Bowl game in the state of New Mexico, there was postseason action in the Land of Enchantment before. In 1980, the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs played Eastern Illinois at University Stadium in the Division II championship game, called the Zia Bowl. It snowed in Albuquerque just two days before the game and the weather was unusually cold. Helicopters were brought in to dry the fields and the grass was painted green. A very small crowd showed up to the Cal Poly win the D-II national title, 21-13.
Call it fate or just plain coincidence but just days prior to the first collegiate bowl game at University Stadium since 1980, the city of Albuquerque was dumped on with six or more inches of snow, forcing the game and practice fields to be plowed off so the Bowl could go on as scheduled. The game did go on as planned Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006 and an announced crowd of 34,111 watched as the San Jose State Spartans defeated the New Mexico Lobos, 20-12. For SJSU (9-4), the win provided a final highlight in a season in which it won more games than it had in the three previous seasons. For UNM (6-7), it dropped them to 0-5 in bowl games since 1997, and extended the Lobos' postseason losing streak to the sixth longest in the nation, having not won a bowl game since they beat Western Michigan in the 1961 Aviation Bowl. For a complete recap of the inaugural game, click here. The final box score, play-by-play, drive chart, post-game quotes, and photo gallery are also available.
New Mexico Bowl II
The second New Mexico Bowl was just as chilly as the first with kick-off temperature of 34 degrees but there was no snow for the 30,223 in attendance. The game ended up in favor of the Lobos as Paul Baker ran for 167 yards in his first start, and Donovan Porterie threw for a career-high 354 yards and two touchdowns to help New Mexico beat Nevada 23-0 on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2007. The Lobos (9-4) ended a 46-year span without a postseason victory and gave head coach Rocky Long, the team's 10th-year coach, his first bowl win in five tries. John Sullivan made field goals from 53, 39 and 37 yards, but credit was also given to New Mexico's defense, which delivered just the second shutout loss for Nevada under Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault. The Wolf Pack (6-7) hadn't gone scoreless since losing 10-0 to Weber State on Sept. 27, 1980, a span of 329 games -- the longest streak in college football at that time and the second longest in history. It was the first time Nevada was shut out since moving to Division I-A in 1992. For a complete recap of the second New Mexico Bowl, click here. The final box score, play-by-play, drive chart, post-game quotes and photo gallery are also available.
Excitement was in the air for the third New Mexico Bowl as it welcomed two new teams, Colorado State and Fresno State, to University Stadium for the first time in the young game's history. It appeared that Fresno State was going to take home the trophy, leading 28-20 heading into the fourth quarter. Colorado State had other plans, rattling off 20 points in the final period for a 40-35 victory. Ram running back Gartrell Johnson, III was named the New Mexico Bowl Most Outstanding Player of the Game, finishing with 375 net yards from scrimmage, which is a New Mexico Bowl record. He ran 27 times for 285 yards, which is a New Mexico Bowl rushing record and a Mountain West Conference bowl game rushing record. Johnson’s 375 yards from scrimmage (rushing & receiving only) on 32 touches set a new mark for the most yards in FBS bowl history. Colorado State defensive end Tommie Hill was named the New Mexico Bowl Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game because of his interception of Fresno State quarterback Tom Brandstater with 13:26 remaining in the fourth quarter to jump-start the Rams' rally. For a complete recap of the third New Mexico Bowl, click here. The final box score, play-by-play, drive chart, post-game quotes, post-game notes and photo gallery are also available.
No one knew for sure what to expect as the fourth annual New Mexico Bowl approached. Fresno State was back for the second straight year but this time the Bulldogs were rolling on a lot of momentum that stemmed from a miracle, season-ending win at Illinois. Wyoming was is the same boat as Colorado State from the previous year. They were representing the MWC with a 6-6 record, needing the last game of the season to earn bowl eligibility, and were led by a first-year head coach. Again, it seemed like Fresno State was destined for the trophy. Wyoming trailed by 11 points in the fourth quarter. Its offense was led by a freshman quarterback, its defense was facing the nation's leading rusher. Time to worry? Not these comeback Cowboys. Freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels threw three touchdown passes, the last a 13-yarder to David Leonard in the second overtime Saturday, and Wyoming rallied past Fresno State 35-28. The first of 34 bowls in the 2009 season was a high-scoring matchup that was decided at the end by defense. Wyoming (7-6) stopped the nation's leading rusher, Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, on three rushing attempts from the 1 in the first overtime. The Bulldogs (8-5) tried a quarterback sneak on third down, and Mathews came up short again on fourth down. The Cowboys, who won four times this season after rallying in the fourth quarter, scored on the first possession in double overtime, then held Fresno State on downs. For a complete recap of the fourth New Mexico Bowl, click here. The final box score, play-by-play, drive chart, post-game quotes, post-game notes and photo gallery are also available.
BYU came into the game winning five out of seven games after a dismal 1–4 start to the season. The Cougars rode the momentum to a convincing victory, beating the UTEP Miners from Conference USA, 52-24. BYU’s freshman quarterback Jake Heaps threw four touchdown passes, connecting with Cody Hoffman on three scores, and finished with 264 yards passing to earn the game’s most outstanding offensive player trophy. Heaps became the first freshman quarterback to start any of BYU's 29 bowl games. For most of the day, he looked like a polished veteran and showed why he was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school in the Seattle suburbs in 2009. He completed seven of his first nine attempts, with both of those incompletions on drops. For the Miners, who were the first team outside of the Mountain West or WAC to play in the New Mexico Bowl, the loss was its fifth straight bowl games defeat. That tied for the second longest active streak in the nation with Georgia Tech and Ball State. Only Northwestern had lost more.
The buzz around town prior to the game was that Wyoming would come out with its second Gildan New Mexico Bowl victory in as many tries. But the Temple Owls, the first team from the MAC to play in the Albuquerque game, were confident in their team and it showed on game day. The Owls controlled the game from start to finish in a 37-15 win. The Owls were led by running back Bernard Pierce, who ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Chris Coyer, who garnered offensive MVP honors. Temple's aggressive defense held Wyoming's spread offense to just 267 yards (127 passing).
College football's postseason started with a wild one as Arizona’s senior quarterback Matt Scott rallied his team in the final 46 seconds, tossing two short touchdown passes for an improbable 49-48 win. The Wildcats recovered an onside kick in the last minute, setting up Scott's 2-yard toss to Tyler Slavin with 19 seconds left for the winning score. Arizona trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and was down 45-28 entering the final period. Scott threw for 382 yards and marched his team back into the game despite those two earlier interceptions. The nation's rushing leader, Ka'Deem Carey, gained 172 yards for the Wildcats but fell short of becoming only the 16th running back in NCAA history to reach 2,000 yards in a season. Arizona receiver Austin Hill caught eight passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. The teams combined for 1,237 total yards. Nevada’s Cody Fajardo threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Wolf Pack and make a case for the game’s MVP honor. He had 256 yards passing and 140 yards rushing and controlled most of the game, completing 22-of-32 throws. Stefphon Jefferson, the nation's second-leading rusher, ran for 180 yards for Nevada.
When it's not bowl season, the New Mexico Bowl stays busy making sure it's name is not forgotten among the nation and the local community. The bowl happily co-sponsors the Presbyterian Ear Institutes' Run To Break The Silence, a 5K, 10K and 20K fun run at Sandia Resort and Casino. They also team with NCAA Football to put on a free clinic for area youth that was coached by both New Mexico and New Mexico State coaches. As the state and the game continue to grow, the New Mexico Bowl eagerly anticipates its chance to become the premier annual sporting event in the Land of Enchantment.