Albuquerque, N.M. • When Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters walked into the news conference after a New Mexico Bowl win, he quietly sat in the back of the room, trying not to draw attention to himself.
A seat at the front podium, reserved for the winning quarterback, was empty and awaiting his arrival. But Maiava-Peters had never been to the postgame podium before.
So it was all new to the third-year freshman quarterback who, making his first career start, had somehow just pulled off one of the more improbable victories of the BYU season. Somebody had to go over and tell him he could go up to the podium any time he wanted.
“We went with the hot hand, and Sol-Jay did a great job playing the game,” head coach Kalani Sitake said when Maiava-Peters finally took his seat next to him.
But no matter how new the whole experience may have been to Maiava-Peters, he did his best to roll with the punches and grind through a 24-23 win over SMU.
It wasn’t always pretty and certainly wasn’t conventional. At times, he looked like the freshman he was. He attempted 12 passes in total and just two in the second half. But when the chips were down and BYU just needed some production on offense, the quarterback answered time and again.
He finished with 143 total yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was the team’s leading rusher (96 yards) and most dynamic weapon when so many starters were out. It won’t go down as the Cougars’ best performance of the season, but it was a needed one.
“When you are a freshman like me, a young guy coming in … you want to be calm and confident and decisive,” he said.
And that’s Maiava-Peters did in this bowl game despite so much that could have gone wrong. When starting quarterback Jaren Hall went out with an injury, Maiava-Peters didn’t know until late in the week he would be the starter.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick tabbed him over the more experienced quarterback Cade Fennegan.
“We had three guys we felt comfortable playing,” Sitake said after the game.
And once Maiava-Peters was the starter, he relied more on his legs than his arm to get the job done. After an interception in the third quarter, he never threw the ball again.
Yet, it worked. He picked up a first down on third-and-12 with a 15-yard run. He bailed out a fourth-down play with a touchdown. He had five carries of over eight yards and two carries of 15-plus yards.
BYU didn’t need its offense to score a ton of points on Saturday, but it needed to bleed clock and run the ball. He delivered on both.
“Just really proud,” Sitake said of his performance.
Immediately after the game, Maiava-Peters was asked about the future, and if this game could mean anything for his chances to win the starting job next season.
Maiava-Peters deflected and said no. And, truthfully, that was likely the right answer. This wasn’t the game that will launch a quarterback into the starting position for years to come. But it was what BYU asked of him a given night, and it was a tall task to deliver. For that, Maiava-Peters was going to soak it all in.
“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. A lot of people coming in. I just got to keep my head and stay humble, for sure,” he finished.