ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, one of BYU’s unexpected heroes in its improbable 24-23 victory over SMU Saturday night in the New Mexico Bowl, said the only thing he could think to do in the final seconds was offer a short prayer on behalf of BYU’s defense.

It apparently worked, because cornerback Jakob Robinson tackled SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai at the one-yard line to preserve another one-point win over the Mustangs in a bowl game.

“I just pointed to the sky and said, ‘Thank you, Heavenly Father,” Maiava-Peters said of the moments following the tackle with eight seconds remaining.

“For me, my mentality is still the same. Like, I am in the back. I know I am still going to have to fight in the offseason for the job. (BYU has) a lot of people coming in. I just got to keep my head and stay humble, for sure.” — BYU quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters.

And BYU fans around the world offered thanks for the third-year freshman quarterback, a fourth-stringer who stepped in, surprisingly to a lot of people, and filled in for injured starting QB Jaren Hall.

“It is for sure a different feeling when the defense is out there, but like (coach) Kalani (Sitake) says, it is complementary football that we play. So I just had faith in the defense, said a little prayer, it was like a real (long prayer). It was genuine, for real, for real. Then J-Rob made the play. I just felt comfort, I guess.”

Maiava-Peters wasn’t perfect, but his elusiveness in extending plays and making something out of nothing carried the Cougars to a 24-10 lead — that and Ben Bywater’s bowl-record 76-yard interception return for a touchdown.

This one, BYU’s last game as an independent, will forever be remember for Robinson’s big stop, Bywater’s big pick-six, and Maiava-Peters’ unexpected performance when he was tabbed by offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick to get the start instead of the more experienced Cade Fennegan.

“A Rod went with the hot hand,” Sitake said.

After SMU went 57 yards on its opening possession and took a 3-0 lead with a 35-yard field goal, Maiava-Peters served notice that he wasn’t going to be intimidated by his first start. He reeled off a 15-yard run the first time he touched the ball and completed his first five passes.

And he can always say he led the Cougars to a touchdown drive the first opportunity he got, punching it in himself on a one-yard TD run on fourth down as Sitake successfully gambled to end a streak of fourth-and-1 futility.

The Cougars had failed six straight times on fourth-and-1 situations before the TD run.

SMU quickly regained the lead, however, as Mordecai threw a 9-yard TD pass to Roderick Daniels on third-and-goal from the 5 with 2:16 left in the first quarter.

BYU forced SMU into punting on the Mustangs’ third and fourth possessions of the first half. After the first punt, Maiava-Peters drove the Cougars to the SMU 15, picking up first downs with his feet on two occasions.

Jake Oldroyd’s 31-yard field goal knotted it at 10-10. It was the 50th career field goal for Oldroyd, and he became the school’s all-time scoring leader with 336 points, passing Mitch Payne.

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The Cougars hurt themselves with three face-mask penalties in the first half, the first one leading to SMU’s field goal.

“Don’t make mistakes (in the second half) and we win this game,” Sitake told the BYU Sports Radio Network on his way off the field at halftime.

Maiava-Peters was 7 of 10 for 47 yards in the first half, for a passer rating of 109.5. He threw just two passes in the second half — the first was incomplete and the second was intended for Keanu Hill but intercepted by Shanon Reid.

The native of Kahuku, Hawaii, did more damage with his feet, running for 96 yards on 17 attempts. His final passer rating was 74.6; SMU QB Mordecai finished with gaudier numbers — 27 of 37 for 218 yards and two TDs, but the pick-six he threw to Bywater and the inability to convert the two-point try left him disappointed in his performance.

As for Maiava-Peters, he’s not ready to say he’s in line to be the starter next year, assuming the fifth-year junior Hall turns pro.

“For me, my mentality is still the same. Like, I am in the back. I know I am still going to have to fight in the offseason for the job,” he said. “(BYU has) lot of people coming in. I just got to keep my head and stay humble, for sure.”

And keep on praying, perhaps.