The Independent Student Voice of NMSU Since 1907

NMSU Round Up

The Independent Student Voice of NMSU Since 1907

NMSU Round Up

The Independent Student Voice of NMSU Since 1907

NMSU Round Up

Aggies fall short in Conference USA Championship matchup

Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics.

With the regular season behind them, New Mexico State football flew to Lynchburg, Virginia to take on the Liberty Flames in the 2023 Conference USA championship game. The top two teams in the conference battled it out, but the Flames emerged victorious with a 49-35 victory over the Aggies. The Aggies’ near 500-yard game, led by junior quarterback Diego Pavia, held its ground in the first half but was overpowered by the Flames’ quarterback Kaidon Salter and the offenses’ 712 total yards.  

After winning the coin toss and electing to differ, the Flames kicked off as the Aggies began with a hot offensive start to the game. Pavia led an eight-play drive that sent the Aggies into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.  

Following the opening scoring drive, the Flames quickly got their offense going on their first possession. The Flames first three plays included short gains to bring up third-and-three before Quinton Cooley rushed for a gain of 11 yards in two plays to give the Flames a first down just outside of Aggie territory. Salter, with the help of his offensive line, completed two short passes to two different receivers for 29 yards combined. 

After two pass plays, the Flames handed the ball to Cooley who pushed all the way to the Aggies’ one-yard line and completed the drive with a touchdown to tie the game at seven a piece.  

Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics.

Despite allowing the touchdown on the Flames’ first possession, the Aggies retaliated and ran six straight run plays with Pavia and running back Star Thomas carrying the load, rushing for a combined 50 yards, with Pavia also completing a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Trent Hudson to end the first quarter. 

On the first play of the second quarter, riding the momentum, Pavia found tight end Ron Tiavaasue for a 10-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-7.  

On their second possession, the Flames took the ball deep into Aggies territory. After plenty of pass completions and successful run plays to move the chains, the Flames looked poised to score again. Before the Flames could progress into the end zone, the Aggies defense stepped up on fourth and two to force a turnover on downs.  

Despite giving up the ball, the Flames defense forced a three and out and gave their offense another opportunity to score more points. Salter quickly got going with a short pass to Noah Frith for a gain of four yards then ran the ball to his right for a pick-up of six. Following two plays that put them in the redzone, Salter handed the ball to Cooley who ran the ball into the endzone to tie up the game 14-14. 

The Flames defense made a statement and quickly stopped the Aggies’ momentum from retaking the lead. The Flames offense remained steady and took the ball to the house on a 26-yard completion from Salter for a commanding 21-14 lead.   

With just 25 seconds left until halftime, Pavia led the Aggies down the field for 58-yards in four plays to send the game tied at 21 a piece into halftime.

Photo courtesy of NMSU Athletics.

After giving up a quick touchdown defensively, the Flames offense continued where they left off and drove the ball into the endzone on a five-play 71-yard drive to extend their lead to 28-21.  The Aggies, unable to respond, were forced to rely on their defense after punting the ball. The Flames offense showed no signs of slowing down and rushed down the field for another touchdown to go up by two scores. 

On the Aggies next drive, Pavia found receiver Jonathan Brady deep for a 75-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to seven with the Flames leading 35-28. 

After struggling to stop the Flames’ explosive offense, the Aggies halted their offense and forced them into a field goal that was just slightly off target, giving the Aggies an opportunity to tie up the game.  

With the Aggies taking over from their own 20-yard line, backup quarterback Blaze Berlowitz was put in after Pavia left the game with an injury. Berlowitz, on his second pass attempt, found Hudson deep in left field for a 31-yard completion. Several short gains led to Berlowitz’s first touchdown when he found Hudson in the endzone for an 11-yard completion to tie up the game at 35. 

From that point, the Flames took the ball and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter without giving up any points, earning them the 2023 Conference USA Champions title over the Aggies with a 49-35 win. 

Despite losing the conference title, the Aggies have another opportunity for a win coming up in the 2023 New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Dec. 16 at 3:45 p.m. against the Fresno State Bulldogs. Coverage will be streamed on all ESPN + platforms and broadcasted on KXPZ 99.5-FM. Tickets can be purchased through the NMSU football athletics page.  

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About the Contributor
Victor Fierro
Victor Fierro, Sports Writer
Victor Fierro is starting his first year with The Round Up as a staff writer. He is currently a senior majoring in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Sports Marketing. He developed a passion for writing when he was in high school. His main goal is to become a play-by-play announcer for an NBA team. Victor loves to write game stories for all sports including basketball and football. Victor hopes working for The Round Up will help him grow as a person and a journalist.

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