Missed chances cost Utah State in Arizona Bowl loss to New Mexico State

New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III (3) leaps over Utah State safety Dallin Leavitt in the first half during an NCAA college football bowl game, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Tucson, Ariz. • Utah State lost a fumble on a first-and-goal play from the New Mexico State 1-yard line, missed four field-goal attempts and failed to take control in the fourth quarter, even after a dominant defensive performance for most of Friday’s game.

USU will have a lot to lament about a 26-20 overtime loss in the Arizona Bowl on the University of Arizona campus.

The NMSU Aggies will celebrate another victory over the USU Aggies in a bowl game, 57 years after rallying in the second half of the 1960 Sun Bowl — the school’s most recent bowl appearance. Larry Rose III’s 21-yard run ended this game, after USU’s overtime possession resulted in a missed field-goal attempt.

The contest never should have reached that stage, from USU’s perspective. NMSU’s prolific passing offense endured a stretch of eight three-and-out sequences and two turnovers in the middle of the game, yet USU scored only 10 points during that period.

Even so, USU (6-7) took a 20-13 lead and could have added to it, after LaJuan Hunt’s 58-yard run created another scoring opportunity midway through the fourth quarter.

“That’s the play I’m thinking about right now; it’s hurting me,” Hunt said during the postgame news conference, wishing he could have reached the end zone.

A field goal may have clinched a USU victory, but a penalty short-circuited the drive. Dominik Eberle, recognized as one of the country’s best kickers as a Lou Groza Award finalist, missed from 48 yards.

Having done practically nothing in the second half, NMSU (7-6) then drove to a touchdown that made it 20-20 with 6:31 remaining in regulation on Tyler Rogers’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Jaleel Scott.

Rogers, who averaged nearly 350 passing yards, was held to 191 yards. Rose ran for 142 yards. USU’s Jordan Love passed for 254 yards and Hunt added 133 rushing yards.

The Arizona Bowl had gone into the fourth quarter before an offensive player scored a touchdown for either team, as Hunt’s 1-yard run gave USU a 20-13 lead.

“I really thought we had some momentum,” said USU coach Matt Wells.

NMSU had opened the scoring with field goal on its first drive, and then USU’s Savon Scarver (96 yards) and NMSU’s Jason Huntley (100 yards) produced touchdowns on consecutive kickoff returns in the game’s first five minutes.

Eberle kicked two field goals, pulling his team into a 13-13 tie as the first half ended. Those six points came after an interception by David Woodward and a fumble recovery by Chase Christiansen.

USU failed to score after having a first-and-goal opportunity during a wild sequence midway through the third quarter. USU safety Dallin Leavitt’s interception off a deflection and return to the NMSU 42 led to a 41-yard completion from Love to Ron’quavion Tarver. But on the next play, NMSU’s Terrill Hanks batted down Love’s option pitch and recovered the fumble.

Aaron Dalton’s three punts in the third quarter went to the NMSU 4-, 9- and 4-yard lines. The last kick was a game-changing play, because after yet another three-and-out sequence, NMSU punter Payton Theisler’s shank went for 13 yards. USU took the lead with a 24-yard touchdown drive, ending with Hunt’s short run.

“It was pretty fun out there, getting stops like that,” said Woodward, a freshman linebacker.

But after a remarkable performance to that point, the Aggie defense gave up a tying touchdown in the fourth quarter and the winning TD in overtime, after Eberle’s field-goal try hit the right upright.