AUSTIN (KXAN) — With bowl eligibility already secured, the Texas State Bobcats accomplished another first since 2014 with a 52-44 win over South Alabama on Saturday.
The Bobcats notched the program’s first winning regular season in nine seasons, finishing at 7-5, and now await their bowl invitation. Texas State was part of 79 teams in FBS that finished with six or more wins to qualify for a bowl automatically. The Sun Belt Conference has 12 bowl-eligible teams this year, a conference record and most of any conference in the country this season.
Texas State first-year head coach GJ Kinne said he doesn’t have a preference on where the Bobcats end up playing their bowl and is confident the fan base will go wherever the team is sent.
“I think obviously it would be cool for our fans to be able to travel to that. So as long as it’s somewhere decently close where they can come and give us support. I think we’ll travel very well,” he said. “The brand of football that we play is exciting. I think somebody’s going to want to keep us and get us, you know, one of those good bowls.”
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Texas State jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter with touchdowns on both sides of the ball. Kaleb Culp scooped a fumble and scored on a 31-yard return for the opening marker and TJ Finley threw a touchdown pass to Ashlyn Hawkins. Jahmyl Jeter contributed a 1-yard touchdown run and Mason Shipley connected on a 28-yard field goal.
The Bobcats made more program history after Kole Wilson returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. With the big return, it was the first time since 2012 that Texas State scored touchdowns in all three phases in a single game.
South Alabama didn’t throw in the towel, however, outscoring the Bobcats 44-28 over the last three quarters to make it interesting. Finley threw for 368 yards on 19 of 28 passing with three touchdowns and an interception. Ismail Mahdi, who leads FBS in all-purpose yardage, rushed for 97 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown. Hawkins caught five passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and Wilson hauled in five passes for 102 yards with a touchdown.
Linebacker Bryan Holloway had 15 tackles, 3.5 for loss, for the Bobcats defense.
Texas State finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Sun Belt West Division at 4-4 with Arkansas State and South Alabama. Troy and Appalachian State will face off Saturday for the Sun Belt Conference title. James Madison, who finished the season 11-1 and 7-1 in conference play, is in its second year transitioning from FCS to FBS and is ineligible to play for the Sun Belt title. However, the Dukes and Jacksonville State both received waivers to play in a bowl game since not enough FBS teams automatically qualified to fill out the 41 bowl games.