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Lobo football: Davie returns, but Lilly is out for season

New Mexico’s Elijah Lilly pulls in the ball for the catch and a touchdown in the Lobos’ game against Sam Houston on Aug. 31, 2019. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

There was a moment late last week, after gaining medical clearance from his doctor, when University of New Mexico coach Bob Davie thought about going to Saturday’s home game against New Mexico State.

Instead, he decided to stick with the plan of watching from home, then returning to the Lobos in full capacity as head coach this week.

Davie said he’s back and now fully ready as UNM prepares to play at Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., on Saturday.

“I’m back 100 percent and anxious to get going,” Davie said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “It’s full speed ahead.”

Davie was seen at practices the past two weeks, but he appointed offensive line coach Saga Tuitele as acting coach for the games at Notre Dame (a 66-14 loss on Sept. 14) and against New Mexico State (a 55-52 win). Davie had been recovering from “a serious medical incident” following the Lobos’ 39-31 season-opening win over Sam Houston State here on Aug. 31.

After the incident, he expressed gratefulness for UNM athletic training staff for basically saving his life, without giving specifics on what happened to him.

“Truthfully, I don’t feel much different,” said Davie, who turns 65 on Monday. “I feel like a few more people like me than I thought. Maybe that’s what happens when you have a health thing, people just say they appreciate you and like you and glad you’re back.”

Davie was with the Lobos at the Sheraton Albuquerque Airport Hotel before they played against the Aggies. He spoke to his team before a wild back-and-forth game against its rival.

He saw quarterback Tevaka Tuioti take a stranglehold of the starting job in his first start of the season.

Tuioti threw for a career-high 355 yards with three touchdowns. He also ran for 59 yards. His 414 total yards put him at No. 7 in UNM history for most in a game.

“The thing with Tevaka is the consistency,” Davie said. “And quite frankly, staying healthy. When he’s right, he’s really right and he’s good. There have been some peaks and valleys.”

Davie challenged the UNM offense to be consistent after piling up 598 yards of offense and scoring six touchdowns vs. NMSU. He said he believes Tuioti is capable of directing the offense, but he has not seen him do it for several consecutive games.

Last year, Tuioti suffered a broken clavicle on his left (non-throwing) side against Liberty, which won 52-43 at Dreamstyle Stadium.

Tuioti said he has “unfinished business,” against the Flames.

“Coach Davie always brings the energy to our team,” Tuioti said Tuesday. “He is the foundation of this whole thing. He built New Mexico football from the ground up, so to have him back it’s a blessing.”

Tuioti will be without one of his top targets against the Flames (2-2). Senior starting wide receiver Elijah Lilly will have surgery on his right labrum Wednesday, ending his season, Davie said. He will redshirt and return next season.

Lilly had been dealing with pain since August and, rather than just continue to fight it, surgery was the best route, Davie said.

Lilly, a 6-foot, 160-pound speedster, made three catches for 38 yards on Saturday. He was the Lobos’ top returning receiver.

Senior defensive tackle Aaron Blackwell, a team captain, will have surgery to repair his right ACL on Thursday, Davie said. He suffered the injury in the season opener.

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