The first game of this year’s college football bowl season was not one short for fun. Arizona (7-6) came away with an exhilarating, back-and-forth New Mexico Bowl victory over New Mexico (7-6) of the Mountain West Conference, winning 45-37 on Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque.
Arizona took a 28-17 into halftime and wasted little time extending its lead in the third quarter. Jared Baker broke loose for a 32-yard touchdown run right up the middle fo the New Mexico defense on Arizona’s second-half opening drive. New Mexico could not be buried though, as the Lobos and Wildcats exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, with each scoring twice. Arizona capitalized on a New Mexico turnover a Lamar Johnson interception that put the Wildcats on the four-yard line. One play later, Baker crossed the goal line for a short touchdown and a 42-24 lead.
New Mexico rallied to make things interesting, getting a three-yard Lamar Jordan scoring jaunt to pull within 42-31 late in the third quarter and a four-yard Austin Apodaca dash to climb with 42-37 with 13:52 to play.
Arizona welcomed back linebacker Scooby Wright III, who finally got on the field after a season riddled with injury issues, and he turned in an admirable performance, hitting double digits in total tackles in the first half alone, then making two clinching plays to thwart New Mexico’s rally. Facing a 4th-and-13 with 6:42 remaining, Wright sacked Apodaca to end the threat. After a Casey Skowron field goal with 1:32 to play, it was Wright who pressured Apodaca into his game-ending interception.
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon looked like the player that led the ‘Cats to the Pac-12 South title a year ago, throwing for 329 yards and two touchdowns while adding another on the ground. Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones turned in a big game as well, with 182 receiving yards and a score.
With the win, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez picked up his third bowl victory since being named the head coach at Arizona. Arizona has won three of the last four bowl games they have played in, which included the New Mexico Bowl in 2012 as well. Arizona lost last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. New Mexico head coach Bob Davie is still on the prowl for his first career bowl victory. Davie was 0-3 in postseason bowl games at Notre Dame.
In 2016, Arizona will kick off the new season in Glendale, Arizona against BYU on September 3. New Mexico will also open the new season that same day, but they will do so at home against FCS power Sam Houston State.