The 2023 First Responder Bowl was everything beautiful about the sport of college football.
The Texas State Bobcats made their first-ever bowl appearance less than 250 miles from their campus. Playing in Dallas, fans decked in maroon and gold packed Gerald J. Ford Stadium with over 26,000 spectators — setting the attendance record for SMU’s home venue this season — in hopes of witnessing the most important game in Texas State history.
And the fanbase didn’t disappoint. The stadium ran out of alcohol by the third quarter and a celebratory field storm blanketed the scene when Texas State defeated Rice, 45-21, for its first bowl win in history.
But one other element of fun was sprinkled into the unforgettable moment — the always-beloved concept of an offensive lineman touchdown. Texas State opened the third quarter with a pooch kick, which Rice failed to recover. Leading the Owls 24-21, the Bobcats amplified their lead by reaching deep into the playbook for a design head coach GJ Kinne held in his back pocket all season.
“We worked on it all year and it’s something we had dialed up,” Kinne said of the offensive lineman touchdown. “Troy actually ran it the other day, and I’m like, ‘C’mon Troy, don’t steal our thunder there!’ But it was the right time, right place on the field. We almost called it the first drive and I’m glad we didn’t. We were able to save it there when we really needed it.”
Quarterback TJ Finley faked a QB draw to the right with his running back and two receivers positioned in the flats on that side of the field. Suddenly, Finley re-oriented left and lateraled the ball to left tackle Nash Jones — who reported as an eligible receiver on the play. Jones caught the ball around the 11-yard line and strolled into the end zone without a defender in his path to finish a play which officially registered as a 3-yard touchdown.
“I’ve been waiting forever,” Jones said about his first career touchdown. “We practice it every week, and I say, ‘Hey coach, we can run it now!’ and they don’t call it. They told me it had about a 50 percent chance of getting called. We get down to the first end zone and I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s run it!’ and we don’t run it. Then they do call it and we go nuts. I’m glad they called it.”
Jones waved his arms in the air in celebration, putting Texas State 31-21 in the midst of a 24-0 Bobcat run to close the program’s first-ever bowl win.
“I love the fact that my coach trusts me enough to give me these plays,” Jones said. “But the biggest thing was what led up to the play. It was all the guys, all the coaches making the right plays, all of our guys willing our way to get to that point. I was just so happy for it to be me to score that touchdown. But I really want to give it to all my o-linemen — they were the main ones that said, ‘Run the play! Run the play!’ So to see my guys happy for me to score the touchdown is amazing.”
In a night full of jubilation and partying on the Texas State sideline, perhaps Jones’ touchdown took the cake. The entire sideline celebrated in unison, elated to see the 6’5”, 320-pound lineman punch a ticket into the end zone.
“I was going crazy on the sideline,” middle linebacker Brian Holloway said. “I hope there’s a video of me. It was executed perfectly. I was so hyped. I saw TJ stop and I was like, ‘What is he doing?’ Then I see Nash, (TJ) throws it to him, he catches it — it was beautiful.”
Prior to becoming a hero of a bowl game, the tackle initiated his college career at Incarnate Word of the FCS, where Kinne coached in 2022. After reaching the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs, the head coach accepted the job at Texas State, and Jones traced those footsteps from San Antonio to San Marcos.
“I followed him for a reason,” Jones said of Kinne. “At Incarnate Word, he showed us a lot of good stuff. One of the things that I loved at Incarnate Word was after the practices, we prayed. And I’m a big man of God, a big man of faith, so to see his faith shown that way in a way that he can help me out and to see how he takes care of the players and how he takes care of us — the practices we work for sure, but he fits stuff into the practices to help us out and cool us down. He just does a really good job of taking care of us.”
The touchdown will forever be ingrained in the annals of Texas State history and Jones’ memory. But for Jones, it wasn’t even the greatest moment of the First Responder Bowl victory. After the game during the field storm, the tackle located his father and what ensued was an everlasting moment between the two Joneses.
“You would think it would be the touchdown, but it’s not,” Jones said on his best memory from the night. “After the game, I saw my family and I got to hug my dad. That was probably the biggest thing. He’s been my biggest supporter from day one. When I was a butthole in high school, he was there to chastise me and get me right. He was the one who helped get me God to put me on the right path. To see it all culminate and fall into his arms again like I’m a little kid even though I’m bigger than him, to see his face light up for me and be so happy and excited for me, I love my dad to death.”
Jones continued to talk about the aftermath of the bowl win, perfectly tying together Texas State’s historic victory with an important moment in a meaningful family relationship.
“I love everything he’s put in the work for,” Jones said. “He drove I don’t know how many hours to see me play. He was there when I broke my leg. To see my dad after we take a bowl win and make history here, to see everything culminate and fall into his arms, I will never forget that.”