Bowling Green running back Ta’ron Keith, left, is tackled by New Mexico State defensive back Dylan Early (11) during the first half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, in Detroit.

AP Photo | Al Goldis

DETROIT — New Mexico State junior quarterback Diego Pavia found a way to convert on multiple third downs when the game was on the line as the Aggies held off Bowling Green, 24-19, in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field Monday.

The Aggies, who played an independent schedule but will join Conference USA next year, end their season at 7-6 while the Falcons close out at 6-7.

VIDEO: New Mexico State holds off Bowling Green in Quick Lane Bowl

The 6-foot, 200-pound Pavia ran for 73 yards on 12 carries and extended plays scrambling, too, completing 17-of-29 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

That includes third down runs on the Aggies’ final possession that ran out the clock and prevented the Falcons from getting an opportunity for a game-winning drive.

“Diego drives me crazy sometimes but when it comes down to winning, he finds a way to win,” New Mexico State coach Jerry Kill said. “The last couple runs he made toward the end were flat unbelievable.

“He just threw his body out there. I mean he takes hits, but he’s also a state champion wrestler, so that may have something to do with that. I don’t think he has a conscience sometimes.”

The Aggies were 11-for-17 on third down, while the Falcons converted on just three third downs, but BGSU did make a formidable second half comeback after falling behind 17-0 early in the third quarter.

BGSU sophomore Ta’ron Keith’s electrifying 75-yard kickoff return put the Falcons on the board in the third quarter, but BGSU still trailed 24-7 entering the fourth quarter. Keith was the short man on the return team, but the kickoff came his way.

“Originally I didn’t think they were going to kick it to me,” Keith said. “But when they did kick it to me, I just made my magic happen. I had a couple good blocks and that was all I needed.”

Bring in the Falcons’ special teams. After missing two earlier field goals, BGSU senior kicker Mason Lawler booted a career-long 49-yard field goal, closing the gap to 24-10 five seconds into the final quarter.

BGSU junior Davion Daniels followed by blocking a punt out of the end zone for a safety, closing the gap to two possessions, 24-12, with 7:10 remaining. It is the Falcons’ fifth time blocking a punt this season, which is second in the nation.

After the safety, BGSU sophomore Jhaylin Embry had a 33-yard kickoff return to the Aggies’ 48 and junior quarterback Camden Orth threw a 14-yard strike 6-7 junior receiver Tyrone Broden.

After a pass interference call was whistled against New Mexico State, Orth tossed a 19-yard pass to Broden, who caught it at the four-yard line and ran through a tackle to find his way into the end zone, closing the gap to five, 24-19, with 6:27 remaining.

However, it was how Orth came into the game that threw the Falcons’ offense into panic mode in the first half.

Midway through the first quarter, BGSU starting quarterback Matt McDonald ran to the sidelines for an 11-yard run and first down when he appeared to be struck out of bounds by New Mexico State sophomore safety Dylan Early.

McDonald lay injured for a moment and never returned to the game, but Early was never whistled for the late hit. Instead, each team was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when shoving ensued afterward.

“We had some adversity strike by losing the quarterback early,” Loeffler said. “There are some things with discipline that we need to get better at.

“We just need to clean some things up and take the next step with discipline on a consistent basis and we are going to do that.”

Loeffler did not want to comment on Early’s hit until he got another chance to see the video.

“I don’t want to say what I think until I watch the tape,” Loeffler said. “But my eyes normally don’t lie. I’ve had that happen twice in a bowl game.”

Orth finished the game completing 14-of-22 passes for 191 yards, including four to senior tight end Christian Sims for 56 yards. Orth said when McDonald went down, he was prepared.

“I was just (there) to lead the ship just like Matt has done this entire year,” Orth said. “He goes down, it’s my job to step in and do exactly what Matt did.”

Another second half drive engineered by Orth led the Falcons to the Aggies’ three-yard line, but the Falcons lost the ball on a fumble. On yet another drive, BGSU got deep into New Mexico State territory, but an unsportsmanlike penalty forced Lawler’s field goal.

“We just had to keep pushing,” Orth said. “We were starting drives. We just weren’t finishing. Our goal is to finish drives and there were some missed opportunities on my end, but you can’t go back now. We just had to keep going forward.”

Keith finished with 152 all-purposed yards, including 75 yards on kickoff returns, 69 receiving and 19 rushing.

With four receptions for 43 yards, BGSU wide receiver Odieu Hiliare extended his active game streak with at least one reception to 35 games. He entered the bowl season with the 14th-best active streak in the nation.

Defensively for BGSU, senior inside linebacker Darren Anders had eight tackles and one-half tackle for a loss, senior safety Chris Bacon had seven tackles and an interception, and senior safety Jordan Anderson had five tackles, including three for a loss.

“Our objective this game was to win it for the seniors, and it is very disappointing in falling short because these guys have been through a lot,” Loeffler said.

“They helped us move the needle in our program. It’s the first time we’ve been to a bowl game in a while (since 2015), and obviously we wanted to win to springboard into 2023.”