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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Liberty 42, Texas-El Paso 28

College Football(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas - No. 22 Liberty completed the first undefeated regular season in the program's 50-year history, with Quinton Cooley rushing for three touchdowns in a 42-28 victory over UTEP.

Quarterback Kaidon Salter ran for a team-leading 94 yards and threw for a score as the Flames made their Conference USA debut by becoming the league's third team to go 12-0, joining Tulane (1998) and Houston (2011). They are the first team Division I team from the state of Virginia to win 12 games.

“Making history like that is just something you didn’t start out to do,” first-year coach Jamey Chadwell said. “As coaches, you’re, ‘All right, what’s next. I’m thinking about next week.’ We’ll look back on it and just how special it was, especially being new.”

Liberty (8-0 C-USA), which rushed for a season-high 441 yards, will host New Mexico State in the conference championship game, but likely will need a Tulane loss to have a shot at the Group of Five bid to the New Year's Six bowls.

Liberty is one of five undefeated FBS teams. It just entered the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time at No. 25, two spots behind the one-loss Green Wave, who beat Southern California in the Cotton Bowl to finish last season.

“Being 12-0 is truly a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing,” said defensive end CJ Bazile, part of a unit that record an FBS-best 20th interception. “I ain't going to lie, in there, I was little emotional. Being 12-0 is something I always dreamed about being a kid. I've never won nothing in my life in football.”

The Flames, in their sixth FBS season, had already broken the school record of 10 wins in 2020 and left little doubt against the Miners (3-9, 2-6). They found the end zone on four of their first five possessions for a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Liberty had 287 yards rushing at halftime, while holding UTEP to minus-2 yards on the ground, then started the second half by running on all eight plays of a 55-yard drive to Cooley’s third TD.

Salter opened the scoring with his 39th total touchdown of the season - one shy of the school record - on a 6-yard pass to CJ Daniels. Cooley's 42-yard TD run made it 21-7 late in the first quarter.

BALANCED ATTACK

The Flames didn't have a 100-yard rusher despite their most yards on the ground since joining FBS. Cooley had 65 yards on 14 carries, and Aaron Bedgood had 82 yards on just four attempts. There were seven Liberty ballcarriers with at least 30 yards each.

“It’s just a lot of great athletes, even behind me,” said Cooley, who finished the regular season as the only 1,000-yard rusher in C-USA. “It doesn’t even start with me. It starts with the other people, also.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Liberty: The Flames might have a shot at their highest-profile bowl even without the Group of Five bid in the New Year's Six games. Liberty is on a four-year bowl streak started by Hugh Freeze, who left for the Auburn job after last season. The Flames played in the Cure Bowl twice, followed by the LendingTree Bowl and the Boca Raton Bowl.

UTEP: The Miners, who finished the season with their fourth-string quarterback, have had losing records in five of coach Dana Dimel's six seasons and have won more than three games just twice. UTEP hasn't played in any bowl other than the New Mexico Bowl since Mike Price led the program to consecutive eight-win seasons in 2004-05. Those are two of just three eight-win seasons since 1989.

Liberty athletics press release

November 25, 2023


Scoring Summary
First Quarter LibUTEP
Lib TD 11:37 CJ Daniels 6 yd pass from Kaidon Salter (Nick Brown kick) 7 0
UTEP TD 10:17 Deion Hankins 8 yd run (Buzz Flabiano kick) 7 7
Lib TD 4:56 Billy Lucas 5 yd run (Nick Brown kick) 14 7
Lib TD 1:15 Quinton Cooley 42 yd run (Nick Brown kick) 21 7
Second Quarter LibUTEP
Lib TD 5:51 Quinton Cooley 1 yd run (Nick Brown kick) 28 7
Third Quarter LibUTEP
Lib TD 5:42 Quinton Cooley 3 yd run (Nick Brown kick) 35 7
Fourth Quarter LibUTEP
UTEP TD 13:30 Mike Franklin 2 yd run (Buzz Flabiano kick) 35 14
Lib TD 5:33 James Jointer Jr. 26 yd run (Nick Brown kick) 42 14
UTEP TD 3:32 Kevin Hurley 2 yd run (Buzz Flabiano kick) 42 21
UTEP TD 0:17 Marcus Vinson 3 yd pass from Kevin Hurley (Buzz Flabiano kick) 42 28
Team Stats
  Liberty UTEP
First downs 24 13
  Rushing 21 3
  Passing 2 7
  Penalty 1 3
3rd Down Efficiency 5-11, 45% 3-12, 25%
4th down efficiency 2-4, 50% 1-3, 33%
Rushes-Yards 62-441 28-50
Passing Yards 28 221
Return Yards 30 11
Completions-Attempts-Int 5-13-0 14-28-1
Sacks-Yards Lost 1--18 3--29
Punts 1 5
Punts-Average 62 49.6
Fumbles Lost 3-3 1-0
Penalties - Yards 8-56 7-40
Time of Possession 36:23 23:37
Liberty Passing
Player Cmp Att Yds TDs Int
K. Salter 4 11 22 1 0
J. Bennett 1 1 6 0 0
N. Hampton 0 1 0 0 0
UTEP Passing
Player Cmp Att Yds TDs Int
C. McConnell 12 25 164 0 1
K. Hurley 2 3 57 1 0
Liberty Rushing
Player Carries Yds Avg TDs
Q. Cooley 13 83 6.4 3
A. Bedgood 4 82 20.5 0
K. Salter 13 76 5.8 0
B. Lucas 13 69 5.3 1
J. Jointer Jr. 4 47 11.8 1
V. Blue 5 38 7.6 0
M. Caper 6 30 5.0 0
K. Austin 1 16 16.0 0
N. Hampton 2 1 0.5 0
UTEP Rushing
Player Carries Yds Avg TDs
M. Franklin 11 40 3.6 1
D. Triche 5 21 4.2 0
D. Hankins 5 18 3.6 1
K. Hurley 2 1 0.5 1
C. McConnell 5 -30 -6.0 0
Liberty Receiving
Player Rec Yds Avg TDs
C. Daniels 2 12 6.0 1
B. Lucas 1 8 8.0 0
B. Durocher 1 6 6.0 0
E. Smoot 1 2 2.0 0
UTEP Receiving
Player Rec Yds Avg TDs
K. Akharaiyi 5 109 21.8 0
E. White 1 54 54.0 0
J. Gardere 2 22 11.0 0
D. Triche 2 11 5.5 0
M. Franklin 1 11 11.0 0
D. Hankins 1 9 9.0 0
M. Vinson 1 3 3.0 1
Z. Fryar 1 2 2.0 0
Liberty Interceptions
Player Int Yards
E. Rogers Jr. 1 18
UTEP Interceptions
Player Int Yards
Liberty Punting
Player Punts Yards Avg
M. Morgan 1 62 62.0
UTEP Punting
Player Punts Yards Avg
J. Sloan 5 248 49.6
Liberty Punt Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
C. Daniels 1 13 13.0
J. Hardy 1 -1 -1.0
UTEP Punt Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
Liberty Kick Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
UTEP Kick Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
J. Gardere 1 11 11.0
Liberty Missed FG
Player Length
UTEP Missed FG
Player Length




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