The UTEP Miners came into Saturday afternoon’s matchup only playing for pride and the chance to spoil 22nd ranked Liberty’s undefeated season in-front of just over 10,000 of the Miner faithful on Senior Day. Instead the Flames’ Triple option orchestrated by talented quarterback Kaidon Slater would prove too much for the Miner defense torching UTEP for a staggering 440 rushing yards on 62 attempts on their way to their 12th victory of the season.
The Liberty Flames would take the opening kickoff 75 yards in just 7 plays when one of only 4 Kaidon Slater completions on the afternoon would find CJ Daniels for a 6 yard touchdown pass giving the Flames the early 7-0 lead. The Miner offense would quickly answer, going on a lightning fast 75 yard 3-play drive most of which came on a long Cade McConnell pass to Kelly Akharaiyi to set up an 8 yard Deion Hankins touchdown run to tie the game up at 7-7.
For the Miners Kelly Akharaiyi had his 4th 100+ yard receiving game in a row and was one of the bright spots for UTEP during the season, stepping up in the absence of Tyrin Smith all 2023. For a brief moment the Miners looked like they would be able to keep up with the 25th ranked team in the Country, but the Flames would score the games next 4 Touchdowns and hold the Miners scoreless until the fourth quarter first taking a 28-7 lead into half time and then scoring another Touchdown in the 3rd quarter to take a 35-7 lead in the game.
The Miners would continue to battle forcing 4 turnovers, but were unable to pose a meaningful threat to the Flames. Mike Franklin would add a 2 yard touchdown for the Miners early in the 4th Quarter cutting the Liberty lead to 35-14. Liberty would answer scoring on a James Jointer 26 yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 42 to 14. The Miners would score two touchdowns in the final 5 minutes to cut the lead to 42 to 28 which would be the final score. The Miners fell to 3-9 on the season. With speculation about UTEP’s Head Coach Dana Dimmel and his future leading the Miners running rampant, Dimmel addressed the media following the came pointing out that this team that began the season was decimated by injuries losing key players like Quarterback Gavin Hardison, Top Wideout Tyrin Smith, and much of the running back corps throughout the season was the cause of the disappointing end to 2023 season. Dimmel talked about having much of the offensive production returning next season and was confident he would be back for the final year of his contract. No assurance was given on Saturday night of Dimmels return for 2024 by Athletic Director Jim Sentor.
Story by Chris Gomez