By: Ty Tracy
Headline Photo Credit: Liberty Athletics
No. 24 Liberty Flames made history Friday night taking their first Conference USA title in program history against the New Mexico St Aggies 49-35 in the conference championship especially their first season in Conference USA after being in the independent conference for the last four season before Head Coach Jamey Chadwell took over the head coaching job. The Flames and Aggies square off for the second time this season, but the Flames swept the Aggies. At the first meeting, Liberty beat the Aggies 33-17 back in week two until the second meeting the Aggies didn’t have any answer to stop the Flames again even QB Kaidon Salter. Liberty Flames MVP QB Kaidon Salter was just a problem for the Aggies’ Defense. New Mexico St couldn’t find a way to maintain Salter in the second half.
The first half of the game was a back-and-forth ball game knowing that it would be the last possession ball game to win. During the first half, the Aggies had every answer for the Flames whenever they scored a touchdown making it a tie-ball game from halftime to the fourth quarter until Liberty Flames outscored New Mexico St 28-14 in the last thirty minutes of the game. New Mexico St QB Deigo Pavia injured his elbow after throwing a 75-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter causing him to sit out for the rest of the game putting freshman QB Blaze Berlowitz to finish the game. Pavia finished the game throwing 188 yards with three touchdown passes completing 68% of his passes.
The Flames’ rush attack was effective once again with 393 total rushing yards having RB Quinton Cooley 11 carries for 71 yards, Billy Lucas 14 carries for 86 yards, and Utility back Aaron Bedgood 72 yards for five carries. As for CJ Daniels was a matchup nightmare for the Aggies DB when they couldn’t find a way to keep in check. Daniels finished the game 157 receiving yards for seven catches and one touchdown catch, but he made some incredible catches that kept the Flames drive alive. Along WR Noah Frith had five catches for 50 yards and one touchdown catch. Meanwhile, Kaidon Salter put a total of 484 yards by himself with three total touchdowns and throwing 20 for 25 on the field while leading the team in rushing with 165 yards also scoring on the ground for the team’s sixth-consecutive win by double digits. Salter sealed the MVP votes after turning a broken play into an incredible 35-yard rushing TD midway through the fourth quarter making the score from a one-touchdown game into a two-touchdown game 49-35. The Flames offense had 712 total yards of offense, averaging 10 yards per play, and no turnovers making it a perfect game for the Flames offense. The Aggies had the No. 1 Defense in the C-USA coming in the conference championship until the Flames put 49 points.
Coach Chadwell estimated the Flames saying, “If you’ve watched us for 13 weeks, we’re the best G5 team in this country,” and “Six wins over bowl teams. Our average margin of victory is 17 points. We have dominated our opponents. We belong in that New Year’s Six.” During the team’s celebration, the Liberty fans stormed the field to join the celebrations with the Liberty Flames football. KadionSalter commented on the game saying, “I feel like today I just went out and I had fun,” and “That was the main goal today, although this was a championship game and a big game to everybody. To us, this was just the next one, and we just wanted to go out there and play for each other today.” Friday’s win not only gives the Flames their first FBS conference title, but it also keeps them alive for a potential New Year’s Six bowl game bid if (10-2) SMU upsets (11-1) No. 22 Tulane in the AAC Championship that they will be paying attention, especially on Sunday when they make the official announcement.
As for the New Mexico St Aggies, they are still Bowl eligible for the second season in a row since 1960 after a slow start at the beginning season then winning eight straight games also a huge win against SEC powerhouse Auburn Tigers 31-10 finishing the season 10-4.