BOWLING GREEN, KY. (KTSM) – In the program’s first season in Conference USA, New Mexico State will play for the league’s championship.
The Aggies rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to defeat Western Kentucky 38-29 on Saturday and punch a ticket to the CUSA Championship Game on Friday, Dec. 1, against Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., on CBS Sports Network. It’ll be the first time in program history that NMSU plays in a conference title game.
It is the first time since 1978 that the Aggies (8-3, 6-1 CUSA) will have a chance to win a conference title and just the fourth time in school history, according to NMSU’s record books. It comes in head coach Jerry Kill’s second season, completing one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent college football history.
“I’m just kind of in shock really, but it means the world to do it with these kids and in Las Cruces,” Kill said. “Having it happen so quickly, we’re still not where we need to be and here we are playing for the conference championship. I’m happy for everybody.”
After falling behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, NMSU mounted a massive second quarter charge. A 10-yard rushing touchdown by Jonathan Brady got NMSU within four points, 14-10, then Diego Pavia hit Trent Hudson for a four-yard touchdown to give the Aggies a 17-14 lead. However, Western Kentucky scored with six seconds left in the first half to take a 21-17 lead into the halftime locker room.
That score held for much of the third quarter, until Diego Pavia hit Eli Stowers on a seven yard touchdown pass with 3:41 left in the third. Stowers then gave NMSU a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter on a rushing touchdown to make it 31-21.
Mehki Miller then sealed the deal officially for NMSU on a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:57 left in the game and the party was on.
“It means a lot. The whole week people were doubting us. We just had the chip on our shoulder and we’re excited to get a chance at Liberty again,” Miller said.
The victory was NMSU’s sixth consecutive win, just the fourth time in school history that the Aggies have had a six-game winning streak and the first time since 1960 (it also happened in 1911 and 1923).
Pavia once again led the way offensively for NMSU, going 14-24 with 141 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 44 yards. Kill said in the postgame press conference that Pavia played much of the game with an injury and his status would evaluated moving forward.
Star Thomas had seven carries for 85 yards, including a 40-yard rush that gave the Aggies a spark. Eight different receivers caught passes for the Aggies.
NMSU will play on the road at Auburn next week as it steps out of CUSA play, before closing the season at home on Nov. 25 against Jacksonville State.