PROVO, Utah – New Mexico State knew that it wouldn’t be making a repeat trip to a bowl game. But the Aggies certainly could have thrown a kink into BYU’s plans to return to postseason play with a win Saturday night on the Cougars’ home field.
And, for a short while in BYU’s 45-10 victory, that actually looked like a possibility.
An early ball-control, efficient drive that turned into a New Mexico State touchdown, the game’s first score, gave the visitors a 7-0 lead and at least a chance to entertain thoughts of a victory.
By the end of the first half, all of those ideas were ones of whimsy. Brigham Young scored 31 points before intermission, while shutting down the New Mexico State offense, and romped at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Freshman Lopini Katoa had 19 carries for 155 yards rushing and four touchdowns, all season highs, and the BYU defense forced six three-and-outs.
With the win, BYU (6-5) became bowl eligible after missing out a year ago.
With the loss, the Aggies (3-8) still earned a $700,000 payday for their troubles.
NMSU meanwhile lost out on its chance to get to the bowl-eligible mark of six victories when it lost to Texas State three weeks ago. The Aggies, who went to their first bowl in 57 years in 2017, will finish the year with a trip to Liberty next Saturday. It’s a rematch of one of the NMSU wins, 49-41 in Las Cruces on Oct. 6.
Against Brigham Young, the Aggies went three-and-out to start the game offensively. The Cougars, however, reciprocated with three straight incompletions and punted back to NMSU.
It was New Mexico State’s second possession that saw freshman quarterback Josh Adkins lead the Aggies on a sharp 85-yard drive that finished with a 17-yard scoring pass to Drew Dan for a 7-0 lead.
The visitors actually had a chance to go up 10-0 when NMSU’s third possession ended with a 47-yard field goal attempt by Dylan Brown that fell way short of the goal posts.
Still, BYU’s offense continued to struggle until an Adkins pass late in the first quarter was deflected off Cougars linebacker Rhett Sandlin and landed in the hands of Malik Moore. That gave Brigham Young the ball at the Aggies’ 15 and that promptly led, three plays later, to a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Hadley to tie the game at 7-7.
From that point to the halftime break, things went steadily downhill for New Mexico State.
With 8:29 left in the second quarter, Hadley took a pitch to the left sideline and made a couple of Aggie defenders miss before cutting back to the middle for a 40-yard TD run and a seven-point lead.
New Mexico State, which continually found itself in bad field position to start drives, had its next possession start at their 8-yard line. The Aggies, forced to punt after three plays, gave the ball back to the Cougars – taking over at the BYU 42. Six plays later, the Cougars made the score 21-7 on a 15-yard run by Lopini Katoa.
BYU went up 28-7 with 1:36 left before intermission when, traversing 60 yards in six plays, Katoa had a clean run of 14 yards right up the middle into the end zone.
Brigham Young tacked on an extra field goal as time expired in the first half on a 23-yard boot by Skyler Southam.
It was the third time the two schools have met on the gridiron. BYU also won in Provo by a 42-7 count in 2011. In Las Cruces, in 2012, the visiting Cougars won 50-7.
Adkins was 25-of-61 passing for 264 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)