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25,000 flock to 13th New Mexico Bowl

Saturday was one perfect day for football.

Mostly sunny, in the mid-40s and with plenty of cold beer on tap, even the losing team’s fans at the New Mexico Bowl seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“We’re happy to be here,” said Bradley Smith of Paradise, Texas, who flew out to Albuquerque with family to cheer on his alma mater, the University of North Texas. “Ate some good New Mexican food.”

University of North Texas mascot Scrappy the Eagle crowdsurfs through the stands during the first half of Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Alas, the Mean Green were ultimately smashed by Utah State 52-13.

Before the game at Dreamstyle Stadium, fans from both sides eagerly anticipated what was expected to be a high-scoring game for both teams.

But it became apparent by halftime that was not to be the case.

“They just didn’t rise to the occasion,” said Tony Walker, who played for North Texas from 1986 to 1991, at halftime when North Texas lagged behind 38-7. “Back when we played, this wouldn’t be happening.”

At the same time, on the stadium’s west side, Utah State Aggie fans were ecstatic at the team’s success.

New Mexico Bowl officials said 25,387 people attended Saturday’s game, which pitted University of North Texas against Utah State University. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“I’d hate to have come all this way and then lose the game,” said Allen Hymas, who had traveled from Utah to see the game with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. “They’re playing really well.”

Hymas and his wife, Laurie Hymas, said they’ve received a warm welcome in New Mexico and were pleased with the high turnout of Utah State fans.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise,” Laurie Hymas said.

And Jeff and Kelli Clark of Albuquerque got the best of both worlds: seeing their alma mater win the trophy, no travel required.

“It’s perfect,” said Jeff Clark, who said it was their first New Mexico Bowl visit. “It’s been really fun.”

Bowl officials announced attendance at 25,387, slightly below last year’s 26,087 when Marshall faced Colorado State.

“I think there’s a national trend that everybody’s seeing that attendance is down across the board, but you’re starting to see some resurgence” said University of New Mexico Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez as he headed to a box seat. “It’s a unique equation that you have to have for a bowl game to make it work.”

The bowl lost its title sponsor, Gildan Activewear, nine months ago when its contract ended, but a few banners emblazoned with the company’s name could be spotted around the stadium on Saturday.

“These big companies should step up to the plate,” said Connie Nellos of Albuquerque, who owns Quarters BBQ and Discount Liquors. “People should get out and really support this. This is a big thing for New Mexico.”

Calvin Allen IV, who played in the 2015 New Mexico Bowl as a defensive end and defensive tackle with the Arizona Wildcats, agreed the bowl deserves more credit.

“I think the New Mexico Bowl is very underrated,” Allen said while tailgating ahead of the game. “It’s always been a good game.”