Nov. 25—LAS CRUCES — Rare as they are, there are still perfect, indelible moments in college football.
And then there's what Ethan Albertson did on Saturday night at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
"We were literally just talking about this in the locker room," wide receiver Trent Hudson said with a smile in a postgame press conference on Saturday night. "He made the game winner on Senior Night. Like he's gonna be telling his kids (about that), his kids are gonna be telling their kids."
Albertson — one of the longest tenured Aggies, a veteran of multiple 2-10 seasons and a canceled 2020 season — drilled a 42-yard field goal into the wind as time expired, setting up a wild celebration as New Mexico State survived Jacksonville State's late rally to win 20-17 on Senior Night.
In front of an announced crowd of 15,702 at Aggie Memorial Stadium, NMSU (10-3, 7-1) secured only its second-ever season with double-digit wins. The Aggies now have a chance to tie the program record of 11 wins — set in 1960 — on Friday in the Conference USA title game at Liberty.
"Ten wins in the regular season is a heck of an accomplishment with this group," head coach Jerry Kill said in a postgame press conference. "The background that we've had here in football for a long time, doing it in two years is an unbelievable story."
One that Albertson will have his name etched into forever. After Jax State kicked a game-tying field goal, quarterback Diego Pavia connected with Hudson for a 37-yard gain in the final minute to set the Aggies up well into Gamecock territory.
NMSU then ran the clock down to three seconds and called a timeout to center the ball. Albertson stepped up and kicked a looping ball to the left and through the uprights on the last play of his career at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
"A kid that had some struggles last year did everything we asked him to do," Kill said of Albertson. "(Special teams consultant Joey Connors) has done a great job with him, and to kick the ball 42 yards into the type of wind we had, (that's) an incredible kick ... he's got a great deal of confidence right now and this will bring more.
"And we need his confidence where it's at right now, heading into these next two ball games. But it couldn't have happened to a better kid in a better situation. And he's done a heck of a lotta work to get where he's at."
Pavia completed 23 of 34 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown while leading the Aggies on the ground with 69 yards. But his two interceptions and a fumble on the goal line only exacerbated an up-and-down third quarter for NMSU, one Kill voiced clear displeasure with.
"You can't win and turn the ball over," NMSU's head coach said. "But we did tonight. I don't know how. But we did."
Despite those four turnovers, NMSU held Jax State to just 85 rushing yards — a week after stifling Auburn to the tune of 65. Linebacker Gabe Peterson led the Aggies with nine total tackles, while safeties Myles Rowser and Dylan Early each hauled in an interception.
After Jax State won the toss and elected to defer, NMSU took a 7-0 lead after a 13-play, 65-yard opening drive, with running back Jamoni Jones converting 4th and 1 at the Gamecocks' 2-yard line before plunging into the end zone one play later.
Then, after corralling the Gamecocks on their opening drive, the Aggies went up 14-0 after Pavia hit Hudson inside the red zone for an 11-yard touchdown.
Jax State finally got on the board with Alen Karajic's 33-yard field goal to make it 14-3. NMSU rode back-to-back runs of 24 yard and 14 yards from running back Makhilyn Young into Gamecock territory on their ensuing drive, only for Young to fumble at Jax State's 26-yard line.
Jax State quarterback Zion Webb immediately hit receiver Perry Carter on a wheel route for a 37-yard gain before the Aggies stood tough to force Karajic's 36-yard field goal attempt, one that missed wide right. NMSU took over and drove 41 yards down the field to set up Albertson's 27-yard field goal and took a 17-3 halftime lead.
After both teams traded punts to start the second half, NMSU drove all the way to Jax State's 1-yard line. Pavia ran around the left end on a keeper but couldn't get in before linebacker Laletia Hale punched the ball out. Jax State safety Jalen Bustamante recovered the fumble.
Five plays later, Webb lofted a pass up at midfield but it was intercepted by Myles Rowser
One play after that, Pavia threw a pick of his own to safety Jeremiah Harris. The Gamecocks couldn't capitalize in the red zone, however, and settled for Karajic's 27-yard field goal to make it 17-6 early in the fourth.
Jax State got the ball back after holding NMSU to a six-play, 14-yard drive. Webb connected with wide receiver Michael Pettaway over the middle for a 28-yard reception to set the Gamecocks up at the Aggies' 8-yard line. A subsequent block below the waist call bumped them back outside the red zone before Webb threw his second interception of the day to Dylan Early in the end zone.
Taking over with an 11-point lead and 8:50 left on the clock, Pavia threw his second interception of the day to cornerback Geimere Latimer. Gamecocks running back Malik Jackson surged into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown three plays later and Webb took it into the end zone for the ensuing two-point conversion as Jax State trimmed the deficit to 17-14.
NMSU scuffled to a five-and-out and Jax State got the ball back at its own 39-yard line with 3:40 left. Facing 4th and 5 at midfield with three minutes remaining, Webb took it up the middle as a herd of NMSU defenders closed in ...
... only for the entirety of the Gamecocks offensive unit to push Webb forward for the first down. Karajic's 27-yard field goal tied it with 43 seconds left.
Pavia hit Hudson for a 41-yard gain on the ensuing drive to set up Albertson's 42-yard game winning field goal. NMSU players streamed onto the field after it cleared the uprights, setting up a 20-17 final as the Aggies' dream season rolled on.
"It is what it is," Kill said. "We found a way to win doing that. I hadn't done that very often in my lifetime. So we did that.
"And you know, now we're sitting here with 10 wins."