Texas State wins program's first bowl game, drinks SMU's stadium dry in the process

Photo by Jill Williams | Texas State Athletics

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DALLAS -- The Texas State side of SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium was out of beer with 12 minutes left in the second quarter of the First Responder Bowl. Once halftime hit, the Bobcat faithful had ransacked Rice's side of the stadium. There wasn't a drop of booze on the premises five minutes into the third quarter.

Texas State's first bowl appearance was treated as a playoff game for the football program and a party for the fans. The announced attendance of 26,542 was the most in First Responder Bowl history and the largest at SMU's stadium since 2023. The Bobcats drank Dallas dry, threw a backwards touchdown pass to offensive tackle Nash Jones, forced seven turnovers and committed 11 penalties for 126 yards en route to a 45-21 victory over Rice.

"When we step on the field and we see a sea maroon and gold, of course that helps," Jones said. "On third down, you can't hear a thing because the crowd is going crazy. You see the support from the fans, and it definitely felt like a home game."

Texas State head coach GJ Kinne preached to his team during bowl prep that they didn't come this far just to get this far. Nursing a 24-21 halftime lead, he put it into practice. The Bobcats pooched the kickoff into a Rice deadzone and stole a possession at the 30-yard line. Then, they tossed the ball to Nash on a trick play they'd been crafting all season. Oh, and they were pulling all these stunts without coaching headsets because wireless communications malfunctioned and both teams ditched them by rule.

"We're in a bowl game and we're trying to go get that eighth win," Kinne said. "Onside kicks... the touchdown to Nash... no headsets. We don't care. I don't need someone up in the box telling me what coverage it is. I know what coverage is."

Rice just couldn't get out of its own way Tuesday night. Texas State set their record as an FBS program with five interceptions. On the first drive after allowing the pooch kick and offensive lineman touchdown, Rice quarterback AJ Padgett tossed an interception to Texas State senior linebacker Brian Holloway, who sprinted 48 yards for his second pick six of the game. The Bobcat defense had surrendered over 30 points in eight games, including a 77-spot to Arkansas State and 44-bomb to South Alabama to close out the regular season. 

But the Texas State defense saved their best for the bowl. Holloway, an SMU transfer, ended his college career on the same field where he started with the game's MVP award. His performance embodied a season where a team full of transfers came together for the best season in program history.

This is the vision Texas State president Kelly Damphousse and athletic director Don Coryell had for the program. 

"Our president is amazing. Our athletic director - amazing," Holloway said. "They've been with us every step of the way and they held up their end of the deal. So I'm really glad we could hold up our end of the deal. The support from them has been everything."

When the final buzzer sounded, the Texas State students stormed the field to celebrate a new beginning. Kinne couldn't help thinking how right the people who hired him were when they told him what was possible in San Marcos.

"When I took the job, everyone talked about the sleeping giant," Kinne said. "Well, I think it's awake."

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