Arizona Football

No. 45 in Arizona history: “Cactus Comet” soars in record performance against New Mexico State

Arizona’s season opener against NAU at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 2 is 45 days away. To go along with the countdown to kickoff, this site will publish the Top 50 games in Wildcat football history.

NO. 45

SCORE: Arizona Wildcats 58, New Mexico A&M Aggies 0

DATE: Sept. 18, 1954

SITE: Arizona Stadium

WHY IT MADE THE LIST: The “Cactus Comet”, as Arizona Sports Hall of Famer Art Luppino was called, came on to the college football scene in a big way gaining 228 yards on only six carries in his first collegiate start at halfback.

Luppino, 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, ran for five touchdowns, four of them from scrimmage in the season-opener for the Wildcats.

He also returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to start the second half. He could have rushed for more yards but sat most of the second half because of the disparity of the score.

Arizona Daily Star clipping of Art Luppino’s record-breaking night against New Mexico State in 1954

Luppino, whose No. 22 jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony in 1999, held the single-game rushing record of 228 yards for 19 years until Jim Upchurch gained 232 yards against UTEP in 1973. Luppino’s 38 yards per rush against New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State) remains a school record.

His 21 rushing touchdowns in 1954 and 44 in his career remained school records until Ka’Deem Carey broke both marks last year. Luppino also holds the school record with the 32 points against New Mexico A&M in the 1954 game and 166 points that season.

Luppino, a sophomore in 1954 from La Jolla, Calif., was also quite the sportsman. He was awarded the Swede Nelson Award for sportsmanship in 1954, which is one of the most memorable seasons for an Arizona football player in the program’s history.

Picture published in the Arizona Republic of Art Luppino’s record performance in the 1954 season opener

Luppino was selected for the award by a panel of coaches for his sportsmanship exhibited against Texas Tech in a 28-14 loss. A Texas Tech lineman delivered a forearm to Luppino’s face, an illegal play, and Luppino lost a tooth and bled openly from the mouth.

Instead of retaliating, Luppino motioned to the restless crowd to take a seat and he carried about his business.

Rare video of Luppino surfaced three years ago from the 1954 and 55 seasons when Idaho released some of its game films. In the following video, Luppino scores around the 22:50 mark on a 1-yard plunge, has a interception and a 42-yard return at 23:59 and scores on a 25-yard run on a pitch around left end at 31:04.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.


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