The New Mexico State Aggies are Wednesday night warriors.
In back-to-back weeks, Las Cruces, NM has served as a backdrop to Wednesday night CUSA matchups. After downing FIU last week at Aggie Memorial Stadium, New Mexico State repeated the favor as Sam Houston paid a visit to The Land of Enchantment.
Captained by a stellar dual-threat performance from quarterback Diego Pavia, New Mexico State flew past Sam Houston, 27-13. The Aggies pitched a first half shutout and generated all 27 points in the first and second quarters. That was enough to stave off the winless Bearkats, which were responsible for all 13 second half points.
Pavia the passer finished the night with 286 yards — his highest output against FBS competition in his college career. But Pavia the runner was equally brilliant, rushing for a season-high 115 yards in the arguably the most spectacular all-around performance as an Aggie. He accounted for all three New Mexico State touchdowns — two passing and one rushing — in the Aggies’ third consecutive home win of 2023.
New Mexico State launched the evening with a methodical 11-play, 87-yard opening drive, and Pavia concluded the sequence by finding an open run lane and sprinting 22 yards toward the end zone. One drive later the junior quarterback took a shot from an RPO, finding a wide open Trent Hudson. With the closest Sam Houston defender trailing Hudson by 10 yards due to a blown coverage, Hudson waltzed for an uncontested 78-yard touchdown to hand the Aggies a 14-0 advantage.
After a pair of second quarter field goals by Ethan Albertson, the Aggies concluded the first half with yet another exclamation point. Pavia connected with Hudson in the end zone on a 12-yard strike with 27 ticks remaining in the half, providing New Mexico State a commanding 27-0 lead before the break — the team’s largest lead against an FBS opponent this season.
While Pavia led the Aggies to an offensive clinic with five first half scoring drives, the defense held firm. New Mexico State forced four first half punts and decisively out-gained Sam Houston in the yardage department, 380-130, before halftime. While the Aggies didn't record a single sack Wednesday night, they applied heaps of pressure on Bearkats quarterback Keegan Shoemaker, which caused Sam Houston to convert just 1-of-12 third down attempts and 1-of-4 on fourth downs.
Failure to extend the sticks on critical downs was unquestionably the Bearkats’ heel which prevented them from generating their first victory of 2023. Shoemaker moved the ball reasonably well, completing 32-of-48 passes for a season-high 285 yards, all while refraining from a turnover. He established a valuable connection with wide receiver Malik Phillips who caught a game-high 10 passes for 118 yards in the defeat.
Still, Sam Houston looked on pace for a shutout until the late third quarter when a blocked punt swung the Bearkats’ fortune. Shoemaker connected on a touchdown pass with Noah Smith with 5:55 left in the period and reconnected with Smith for another touchdown with 12 minutes remaining in the contest, providing New Mexico State some competition.
Meanwhile, the Aggies simply got by on their first half output alone. On the first seven of eight second half possessions, they punted. Their longest second half drive spanned just 28 yards. But the defense recorded enough stops to win — highlighted by a consequential 4th down stop with 4:16 left where a 30-yard Sam Houston pass near the goal line was overturned and ruled incomplete.
Sam Houston (0-6, 0-3 CUSA) shares winless status with one other FBS program — Nevada, which currently rides the nation’s longest losing streak at 15 games. The Bearkats were close in their prior two weeks against Jacksonville State and Liberty, and they’ll hope to finally emerge triumphant next Wednesday when hosting FIU.
New Mexico State (4-3, 2-1 CUSA) thrusted itself back into CUSA contention with its second consecutive win. After defending their home turf in conference play, the Aggies travel to the home of their closest neighbor UTEP next Wednesday for the 100th meeting between the longstanding rivals.