LAS CRUCES — The last time the New Mexico State football team played in a bowl game, it was 1960 and the opponent was Utah State.
The next bowl game NMSU plays will be Dec. 29, and the opponent will be Utah State.
New Mexico State on Sunday accepted an invitation to the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson, ending the longest bowl drought in major college football.
“I’ve never seen so many people crying out of joy,” NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said. “They didn’t think it was going to happen here. We’re a low-resourced institution and in a geographical area that doesn’t produce many (college) football players.
“It’s akin to the Chicago Cubs. There was such a release of emotion after the game. It was a tremendous day for the long-suffering Aggie fans.”
The Aggies (6-6) became bowl eligible with a 22-17 win over South Alabama on Saturday night. It is the first time NMSU is bowl eligible since 2002 when it was 7-5, but did not receive a bowl invite.
“Getting to a bowl game is the way our senior class should go out,” New Mexico State coach Doug Martin said. “They are a remarkable group and have changed the culture here at New Mexico State. This bowl shows that we can do great things here and the best days are ahead.”
The drought-breaking bid came in the Aggies’ final season in the Sun Belt Conference. They’ll be an independent starting next year.
Moccia said there never was a doubt New Mexico State would accept an invitation, even though there could be costs associated for an department that chugs along on an $18 million budget. He said he hadn’t gone over the financials yet, and it’s possible the Aggies could lose a little money.
Aggies senior quarterback Tyler Rogers is from Peoria, Ariz. Following Saturday’s win, Rogers said ending his career in Arizona “with friends and family in the stands would really be something special.”
Utah State (6-6) holds a 30-7 record against NMSU. The teams played in the Big West Conference together from 1985-2000.
New Mexico State won at New Mexico 30-28 on Sept. 9. Utah State beat the Lobos 24-10 in Albuquerque on Nov. 4.
NMSU vs. Utah State
3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network