For the second straight year, the New Mexico football team earned a bowl berth — and for the second straight year it will play in its home stadium as a participant in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
In the press conference prior to the team’s final regular season game, head coach Bob Davie said he’d actually prefer to play in the New Mexico Bowl if given the choice.
“The thought of, if we’re bowl eligible, someone else playing in our stadium, someone else using our locker room...I just have a hard time seeing two teams playing in our stadium, when we can be one of them,” Davie said.
The Lobos will get that opportunity after accepting a bid to play in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Texas-San Antonio (6-6, 5-3 C-USA).
New Mexico (8-4, 6-2 MW) rebounded from a 1-2 start after it dropped two very winnable games to New Mexico State and Rutgers. The team blew a 9-point fourth quarter lead against the Aggies, and a 21-0 first quarter lead to the Scarlet Knights.
The team found a way to weather a storm that included early struggles, a defense that allowed big plays at times, and injuries to key players.
Even as a predominantly run-oriented team, the Lobos are a threat to score from anywhere on the field and posted a 5-1 record in front of its home crowd this season.
2016 has already yielded the first instance in program history New Mexico has produced two 1,000-yard running backs in a single season.
Tyrone Owens had 1,084 yards on the ground, but was unable to add to that total as he didn’t play in the regular season finale.
Senior running back Teriyon Gipson ran his season total up to 1,209, which now leads the team, after he reeled off a career-high 217 yards in the 56-35 victory over Mountain Division Co-champion Wyoming.
Jason Sanders set new school marks in most made extra points in a season and consecutive PATs overall (which reached 81 over two seasons). He has also been a major weapon on special teams, with his ability to kick the ball out of the endzone to eliminate opponents’ ability to return kickoffs.
The team is all but assured to set new school marks in points scored, rushing yards and total offense as well. The Lobos boast the No. 1 rushing attack in the nation in rushing yards per game.
Even with all the record-setting numbers, the Albuquerque Journal reported that attendance numbers have dropped significantly this season despite the Lobos being more successful than last year’s team.
Davie has shown appreciation for the fans, though, going so far as to send T-shirts to the few that endured the entirety of a 35-26 victory over Nevada earlier in the season that spanned nearly five hours due to a lightning delay.
The shirts read “11/5/16, I was there,” and displayed the scoreboard and the game’s eventual end time of 1:10 a.m.
The bowl game will be an added benefit for the Lobo faithful that did show up to support the team throughout the season.
UTSA also got off to a shaky start, losing three of its first four games. The Roadrunners answered the challenge by winning four of its next five, earning bowl eligibility with a 33-14 win in its final regular season game over Charlotte.
The New Mexico Bowl will be played on Dec. 17 in University Stadium at noon. A victory by the Lobos would mark just the fifth time in program history the team ended a season with nine wins.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @robert_maler.