LAS CRUCES — One of the least meaningful games in New Mexico State football history capped one of its most historic, peculiar weeks on an overcast, rainy, Senior Day Saturday afternoon at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Mere days after hearing its petition for bowl eligibility approved by the NCAA despite only a five-win season, NMSU quarterback Diego Pavia threw for 323 yards and four first-half touchdowns as the Aggies evened their record at 6-6 in a 65-3 blowout of Football Championship Subdivision opponent Valparaiso.
The junior from Albuquerque accounted for all four of his team’s first-half air scores by the 10th offensive snap, hooking up with Josh Brady (50 yards), Justice Powers (69 yards), Kordell David (70 yards) and Bryce Childress (71 yards), then later rushing in from 14 yards out on the way to a 35-3 halftime advantage.
“Today was one of those days. We didn’t even know if we were gonna have a game, and in three days, they got (themselves) ready,” NMSU first-year head coach Jerry Kill said of a team that’s won five of its last six games. “I don’t know if we played as good as we can play, but we didn’t have a huge letdown.”
Saturday’s game wasn’t officially on the docket until earlier in the week, NMSU scheduling a makeup for the Oct. 22 San Jose State cancellation after Spartan freshman running back Camdan McWright died in a traffic accident. Aggies Athletics unsuccessfully negotiated make-ups with multiple Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools before eventually settling on Valpo. Although Saturday’s win got NMSU to six wins, it was the second victory versus an FCS school and doesn’t count toward bowl eligibility.
Bowl participants ordinarily are required to have at least five wins versus fellow FBS opponents to attain eligibility for postseason play, but all bowl slots must be filled. Eighty such teams have met that requirement, NMSU grabbing the 81st of 82 bowl-eligible spots after the NCAA’s decision to regard NMSU’s 5-6 season (before Saturday) better than others’ 5-7 seasons. That propels the Aggies to their first bowl appearance since a 2017 Arizona Bowl win. Bowl matchups are set to be announced Sunday.
“It’s like a five-hour show,” Kill said of the ESPN-televised selection show. “I don’t know if we’ll know by 12 o’clock, one o’clock, two o’clock. Ya know, they don’t really tell ya. … We’re gonna get together with our team tomorrow at (1 p.m.) and celebrate.”
Added senior inside linebacker and Los Lunas product Trevor Brohard, “It’s amazing. (The senior class) came in, got to go to a bowl, experience that … came in with a bowl, now I’m leaving with a bowl. I’m super happy.”
Fellow senior and team top tackler Chris Ojoh couldn’t agree more.
“I feel like the team, midseason especially, having those (four straight losses to open) the season, we really just got conscious of what we were doing and just really realized that we could either continue on the path we were going down, like last year, or we could figure some things out and try to change. I feel like everybody got on board … and the magic happened at that point.”
Pavia (9-of-13 passing) left the game late in the first half, grabbing at his right hamstring after his 65-yard scoring scramble was called back to a holding penalty. He finished the game on the sidelines in a parka and civvies.
“I’m gonna be good, regardless, ” Pavia said. “No matter If we’re playing tomorrow or not, I gotta play.”
Sophomores Jamoni Jones and Star Thomas (10 carries, 56 yards) added short scoring runs in the third quarter before Ahmonte Watkins raced 78 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown on his only carry of the game early in the fourth.
Third-string quarterback Weston Eget also came on in that final quarter, hitting Brady for his second TD catch.
“The first half of the season was a little tough for (the receiving corps),” senior wideout Powers said after catching the first touchdown of his NMSU career. “… You see how we play when we all get our stuff together.”
Valpo (5-7) can testify, falling in its first-ever matchup with an FBS opponent.
SUNDAY: College Football Playoff and bowl selection show, 10 a.m., ESPN