EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – New Mexico State head coach Jerry Kill said this week he was tired of hearing about losing to rival UTEP. The message was heard loud and clear by the Aggies.
Donning shirts that said “Bad Boys” pregame – the idea of head coach Jerry Kill – NMSU (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) used a dominant second half to dispatch the Miners (2-6, 1-3 CUSA), 28-7 on Wednesday night in the 100th edition of the Battle of I-10 at the Sun Bowl.
It’s the Aggies’ first win in the series since 2019 and the first time since 1923 that NMSU has beaten UTEP and New Mexico on the road in the same year. It was also the first time the Battle of I-10 was a conference game since 1961.
The Aggies were once again led by quarterback Diego Pavia, who threw for 186 yards, rushed for 96 more and accounted for all four NMSU touchdowns. In his last five games, Pavia has accounted for over 1,500 total yards of offense with 14 total touchdowns and just one turnover.
“You win with defense and you win with a good quarterback,” New Mexico State head coach Jerry Kill said. “And if you don’t turn it over, you’re gonna win most of the time. So football is pretty simple.”
Pavia joined K.C. Enzminger as the only Aggie quarterbacks to surpass 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in their NMSU careers. Pavia was not made available to the media for the third straight week and Kill said, “I’m Diego,” when asked if or when he might be available to the media, following an off-field incident.
“He’s a special competitor, a special player, all those things,” Kill said. “The biggest thing is he’s tough. Your leader, he’s got to be tough. When you have somebody that’s tough playing that position, it gives you a chance to win.”
NMSU struck first in the first quarter on a 10-yard touchdown run by Pavia, but mistakes and missed field goals in the first half hurt the Aggies. UTEP tied the game at 7-apiece on a Kevin Hurley one-yard plunge in the second quarter, then the Miners blocked an NMSU field goal as the first half clock expired to go into the break with the game tied at 7.
The second half was an entirely different story, though. NMSU got the ball first and went 69 yards in five plays, capped by a six-yard touchdown pass from Pavia to Thomaz Whitford.
After a UTEP punt, NMSU again got moving and Pavia ended a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 41-yard rushing touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Aggies wrapped up the scoring with some trickeration and Pavia once again found Whitford on a 16-yard touchdown, as NMSU outscored UTEP 21-0 after halftime. For the game, the Aggies outgained UTEP 439-304.
“We went in at halftime and said, ‘hey, it’s 0-0,’” Kill said. “‘Now we’re gonna go out and play the way we’re supposed to.’”
The Miners once again started redshirt sophomore Cade McConnell at quarterback, but he was unable to recreate the magic he had in a road win over FIU last Wednesday night.
NMSU got to him, particularly in the second half and he was just 15-32 for 179 yards. NMSU largely kept UTEP’s rushing attack in check, holding them to 125 yards on the ground while the Aggies gained 253 yards on the ground.
“I thought his performance was solid, but not good enough for us to win,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said when asked about McConnell. “But it’s definitely not on him why we didn’t win by any means.”
Pavia teamed with Monte Watkins in the ground game, who had been underutilized for stretches of this season. Watkins ended with 10 carries for 109 yards. Through the air, NMSU’s quarterback-turned-wide receiver Eli Stowers caught five passes for 80 yards to lead the Aggies.
With the victory, NMSU moves into third place in the CUSA standings at 5-3, 3-1 in league play behind Liberty (7-0, 5-0) and Jax State (6-2, 4-1). Since they’re playing a 13-game schedule, the Aggies need two more wins to earn bowl eligibility with seven wins for the second year in a row. NMSU will play at LA Tech next Tuesday.
As for UTEP, the Miners’ defeat to the Aggies at home is the latest in a string of disappointing losses that sees UTEP fall to 2-6, 1-3 in league play. The Miners now must win their final four games to become bowl eligible, starting next Wednesday at Sam Houston.