UPDATE: The New Mexico Lobos defeated UTSA 23-20 in the 2016 Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
UTSA (6-6) vs. New Mexico (8-4)
Kickoff: 1 p.m., Saturday, University Stadium, Albuquerque
Series record: Tied 1-1
Last meeting: UNM 21, UTSA 9, Oct. 4, 2014, Alamodome
Notable: UTSA will be just the third FBS school in the modern era to play in a bowl as early as its sixth season.
SAN ANTONIO – With UTSA clinging to a one-point lead in its 2013 season opener, New Mexico appeared to have seized the momentum when it downed a punt at the Roadrunners’ 1 with 7:05 left.
The ball had bounced close enough to the goal line that the referee told then-UTSA coach Larry Coker that he had the option to ask for a review by instant replay. If the replay revealed any part of the ball had broken the plane of the goal line, it would have been ruled a touchback, giving the Roadrunners the ball at their 20 instead of inches from the end zone.
Coker famously – at least in the collective memory of UTSA players who heard his sideline conversation with the official – turned down the offer for a review.
“No, we’ll go 99,” Coker said.
UTSA did just that, carving out an eight-play, 99-yard drive that ended with Eric Soza’s 8-yard touchdown pass to running back David Glasco with three minutes left. The Roadrunners hung on for a 21-13 victory that was a defining moment for a UTSA team that went 7-5 and finished the season with a five-game winning streak.
A little more than three years after that August night in Albuquerque, UTSA (6-6) and New Mexico (8-4) will square off in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday at the same stadium.
“I think it’s going to be a hard-fought game on both sides of the ball,” UTSA senior Michael Egwuagu said this week. “I think New Mexico is a great, formidable opponent, but we are as well. We’re going to go and show them what we have and hopefully come out with a victory.”
The game will be a historic one for the Roadrunners, who are playing in their first bowl since kicking off their inaugural season in 2011. UTSA will be just the third FBS school in the modern era to play in a bowl as early as its sixth season.
The Roadrunners earned a bowl bid in their first season under coach Frank Wilson, who succeeded Coker in mid-January. Wilson, 43, was an assistant coach at LSU for six seasons before landing his first college head coaching job at UTSA. The Roadrunners lost three in a row after winning their season opener but went 5-3 the rest of the way to break even.
UTSA went 5-3 in Conference USA, finishing second in the West Division.
“The ability to stay focused on a task at hand is a real one in football, but also in life,” Wilson said. “Even when we lost three in a row, it didn’t matter. We stayed the course. There was no panic button.”
Saturday’s clash will be the third in four seasons between the Roadrunners and the Lobos, who beat UTSA 21-9 in 2014 at the Alamodome. UNM is 1-2 in the 10-game history of the New Mexico Bowl, which has been played annually since 2006 at University Stadium on the UNM campus. The Lobos lost to Arizona 45-37 in last year’s game.
UNM finished in a three-way tie (6-2) with Wyoming and Boise State for first in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. Wyoming went on to play in the conference title game because it had a better divisional record. The Lobos, who have won six of their last seven games, ended the regular season with a 56-35 victory over Wyoming in Albuquerque.
Egwuagu and senior tight end Trevor Stevens will end their college careers where they started them three years ago – in Albuquerque against the Lobos. Egwuagu had two tackles in the Roadrunners’ 2013 win and Stevens, a redshirt freshman that season, played on special teams.
Senior running back Jarveon Williams was also a freshman in 2013, but he had a knee injury and didn’t make the trip.
Egwuagu posted a photo of him with some his teammates on the sideline during the season opener against UNM in 2013.
“It was a bit, like, nostalgic just looking at that, and I guess you could say seeing how far we’ve come, how far I’ve come as a player, as a person, and how far we’ve come as a program,” Egwuagu said. “If anything, I think it’s just fitting to end my career in New Mexico. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Williams, a Judson graduate, will cap his college career as UTSA’s leading career rusher. He was asked about the finality of playing in his last college game.
“It’s just surreal,” Williams said. “It’s hard to believe. It’s been a great journey and I’m proud to be a Roadrunner.”
While Williams wasn’t in Albuquerque for UTSA’s win over the Lobos, he recalled hearing about Coker’s decision to turn down the instant replay on the downed punt and take the ball at the 1.
“It’s just a testament to Coach Coker and the leadership that he has and the belief that he had in this team and this program,” Williams said. “It just shows you the strides that this program has made, coming from that year, full circle back around to playing these guys again back in Albuquerque.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to be able to go back out there and play them again, especially for me, because I missed the first one. That type of stuff resonates with us all the time.”
UTSA faces the challenge of slowing down UNM’s triple-option offense, which leads the country in rushing yardage (4,431). The Lobos average 470.2 total yards – 360.9 rushing and 109.3 passing.
UNM running backs Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Evans have rushed for 1,209 and 1,084 yards, respectively. Gipson (9.2) and Evans (8.1) also have the top two per-carry averages in the nation.
“Any time you’re playing an option team, you have to hone in and focus on your duty,” Egwuagu said. “You have to do your assignment. You have to settle guys down and put them in the right spot. This will show if your defense is disciplined or not.
“A lot of those option teams, they gain success from the mental errors of the defense. We’re going to try to minimize that. I’m sure they’ll make some great plays, but we’ve got something for them.”
Junior Dalton Sturm will start at quarterback for UTSA, Wilson said, but added that senior back Jared Johnson also will play.
The Lobos are coached by Bob Davie, formerly a head coach at Notre Dame and defensive coordinator at Texas A&M under R.C. Slocum. UNM offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse was head coach at Southwest Texas State, now Texas State, for six seasons (1997-2002).