ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- San Jose State linebacker Matt Castelo saw New Mexico halfback Rodney Ferguson hit the hole near the goal line and prepared for a collision.
"I saw the running back get the ball and it was like in slow motion," Castelo said. "I got down low and I think he tried jumping over me. Tried to put the ball out for a touchdown."
Ferguson never made it to the end zone.
Castelo hit Ferguson and his helmet knocked the ball out and right into fellow linebacker Damaja Jones' hands. In a season where San Jose State's defense carried the Spartans to their first bowl game in 16 years, Castelo and Jones teamed up for what may have been the biggest stop of the year.
Adam Tafralis threw three touchdown passes and San Jose State beat New Mexico 20-12 on Saturday in the inaugural New Mexico Bowl, extending the Lobos' postseason drought to 45 years.
One big pass play by Tafralis and that costly fumble by Ferguson -- both in the first half -- set the tone for the Spartans' first bowl win outside of California.
Jones returned Ferguson's fumble 57 yards to the New Mexico 37. Although the Spartans didn't score on that drive, they had the momentum for good.
"I saw Matt set him [Ferguson] up," Jones said. "He tried to jump over Matt and Matt put his helmet right on the ball. I was trying to get over the top and the ball fell right in my hands."
New Mexico (6-7) hasn't won a bowl game since it beat Western Michigan in the 1961 Aviation Bowl and is 0-5 since 1997.
For the Spartans (9-4), the win provided a final highlight in a season in which they won more games than they had in the three previous seasons.
No doubt the game turned on Ferguson's fumble.
"That was a 14-point play. It changed the game completely," said coach Dick Tomey, the 68-year-old veteran who turned around the downtrodden Spartans program in just two seasons.
"That was the biggest play of the game. If we get the score, we tie it 7-7," said New Mexico coach Rocky Long, 0-4 in bowl games since taking over the program in 1998.
Tafralis, who was 11-of-18 for 209 yards, threw scoring passes of 36 and 24 yards to James Jones and 76 yards to John Broussard. The pass to Broussard on the first play of the second quarter -- in which New Mexico's defense totally blew the coverage -- got the Spartans' offense rolling.
"James came so open I just had to throw it," Tafralis said.
New Mexico's only touchdown came with 15 seconds left in the game on a 15-yard pass from Chris Nelson to Marcus Smith. The rest of the Lobos' scoring consisted of a 40-yard field goal by Kenny Byrd with 1:11 left in the second quarter and a safety when San Jose State punter Waylon Prather stepped out of the end zone with 1:08 left.
Byrd's field goal was his 25th straight from 40 yards or closer and the first made field goal by New Mexico in 10 bowl appearances.
San Jose State struck first after the teams combined for seven punts in the first quarter.
Tafralis found Broussard 20 yards behind the nearest Lobo. Broussard caught the pass at the 35 and easily scored.
New Mexico came right back with a drive that started with DeAndre Wright's kickoff return to the San Jose State 40. Eight plays later the Lobos had a first-and-goal at the 1. The Spartans' defense toughened and on third-and-goal from the 2, Ferguson fumbled.
The Spartans made it 13-0 on Tafralis' 36-yard pass to James Jones with 3:59 left in the first half. James Jones caught the ball near the sideline at the New Mexico 16 and slipped out of the grasp of Wright. Matt Strubeck missed the extra point.
The Lobos' offense had 377 total yards but was stagnant most of the day. Neither freshman quarterback Donovan Porterie, who started, nor Nelson, who played in the second half, could sustain drives. What plays did work often were erased by holding penalties and three second-half fumbles, including one by wide receiver Travis Brown at the San Jose State 1 with just over 3 minutes left.
Ferguson, who led the Mountain West Conference in rushing this season, had 102 yards on 22 carries.
James Jones and Broussard each had 106 yards receiving, Jones with six catches and Broussard with four.