With BYU clinging to a surprisingly small 23-14 lead over New Mexico State early in the third quarter Saturday afternoon in Las Cruces, Cougar senior quarterback James Lark threw one of his worst passes of the game.
On a quick bubble screen, Lark's pass to BYU sophomore wide receiver Ross Apo was read by Aggie cornerback Cameron Fuller, who stepped in front and had a clear path to the end zone if he had been able to hang on.
Instead, the ball bounced to the turf and Lark got another chance. On the next play, he got the ball to Cougar junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman and he hurdled a defender on his way to a 31-yard touchdown.
That reversal of fortunes ended any hopes New Mexico State had of pulling the shocking upset as BYU pulled away from that point on to get the 50-14 victory.
Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he told his team before the game to enjoy having the chance to play.
“I just reminded them why we came and asked them why they came to Las Cruces,” he said. “I knew it was going to be very unique circumstances, after Thanksgiving and there might not be a full stadium, but our fans supported well
In his first start at BYU, Lark turned in a sterling performance against the overmatched Aggies, finishing 34-of-50 for 384 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.
"I was very impressed," Mendenhall said. "I was just grateful to have a chance to let James show what he could do. I thought he managed the team really well, he threw the ball exceptionally well and he had so much fun."
Hoffman turned out to be his favorite target as the junior pulled in 12 receptions for 182 yards and set a single-game Cougar record with five touchdown catches.
Even though the BYU pass game clicked from the start as Lark hit his first 10 passes, the Cougars still had a tough time scoring at the beginning of the game.
BYU surrendered the first points of the game on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley to tight end Perris Scoggins early in the second quarter, giving New Mexico State a 7-0 advantage.
The appeared to wake the Cougars up a little bit as Lark moved the team back down the field and got BYU into the end zone on a five-yard pass to Hoffman.
The Aggies got to enjoy their lead a little longer, however, as Cougar junior kicker Justin Sorensen bounced the extra point off the upright, making it 7-6.
But that was just the beginning for the BYU offense, as it added a touchdown catch by JD Falslev and another by Hoffman to make it 20-7 Cougars at the half.
BYU got the ball to start the second half and moved down the field, but ended up turning to Sorensen for a 31-yard field goal to increase the lead.
But New Mexico State had another big play in the works as Manley faked a reverse and went deep to Aggie wide receiver Kemonte Bateman.
Cougar sophomore safety Craig Bills appeared to be in position to make a play on the ball, but his legs got tangled up and he went down. Batemen managed to recover, juggled the ball, then brought it in for the 67-yard touchdown.
Only down by nine, NMSU managed to get a stop but the offense couldn't move the ball. That gave BYU great field position as it set up the big sequence with Fuller and then Hoffman that secured the win for the Cougars.
The visitors then pulled away with two more touchdown catches by Hoffman in the fourth quarter. BYU capped the scoring with a one-yard dive by senior running back Zed Mendenhall.
New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker said he was pleased with the way his team battled in the first half but couldn’t sustain it throughout the game.
"There's two halves to every ball game and you play against a team like this, they're physical you almost have to play pretty perfect on both sides of the ball to emulate that first half," he said. "They wore us down and we just weren't able to move the ball. We had to play two good halves to be in this game and we didn't."
The Cougars ended up dominating the statistics as BYU finished with 520 total yards (384 passing, 136 rushing) compared to just 187 for the Aggies (158 passing, 29 rushing).
With the win, the Cougars improve to 7-5 on the season and now will turn their attention to getting ready to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.