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WKU Football drops Homecoming contest against New Mexico St

Dominic Di Palermo
Wide receiver Malachi Corley (11) runs the ball downfield after a reception during the homecoming game against New Mexico State University at at L.T Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

Moving into heated and crucial Conference USA play, the Hilltoppers hosted the New Mexico State Aggies (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) for a Homecoming weekend game on a sunny and warm Veterans Day Saturday in front of 16,319 fans. WKU dropped a back-and-forth contest to the Aggies 38-29.

Fireworks struck right away for the Hilltoppers, as graduate quarterback Austin Reed connected with junior running back Elijah Young for a 72-yard touchdown, one of many explosive plays from Young in the past several weeks of play.

The Hilltoppers took the field again after a spoofed drive from the Aggies, this time making their way to the end zone with a little trickery and well-designed plays from offensive coordinator Drew Hollingshead. This time, Reed took it in himself from 13 yards out to advance the Tops lead to 14-0 with 7:27 left in the first quarter.

Quarterback Austin Reed (16) dives into the end zone to score a touchdown during the homecoming game against New Mexico State University at at L.T Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Dominic Di Palermo)

Taking the field for their second drive, the Aggies opted to come back with some trickery of their own. After a long reverse to Star Thomas for 40 yards to take the Aggies into scoring territory, the unit was unable to get the ball into the endzone. Aggies kicker Ethan Albertson finished the job, getting the team on the board from 40-yards out. 14-3, Hilltoppers lead.

To open the second quarter, the Aggies capped their seven-play, 45-yard drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown from running back Jonathan Brady. 14-10, the Hilltoppers continued their lead. 

After a turnover on downs from the Hilltoppers, the Aggies got the ball back at the 11:48 mark in the second quarter. A long-winded drive from the New Mexico State offense resulted in a touchdown from Pavia to receiver Trent Hudson, who made a big one-handed catch in the endzone from four yards out. 17-14, the Aggies took the lead. 

The Hilltoppers, late in the second, got the ball back and played a game of inches, using nearly all of their downs between each marker and draining the clock. In the red zone with 0:10 left to play the half, the unit was able to score in an electrifying way. Reed navigated traffic and stayed vigilant, hitting redshirt senior receiver Craig Burt Jr over the middle, who pulled the ball in with one hand. 21-17, Hilltoppers regained the lead.

After back-to-back snuffed drives between the Aggies and Hilltoppers to kickoff the second half of play, the Aggies got the ball at the 9:39 mark of the third quarter. Pavia and offensive coordinator Tim Beck were able to put together the result they wanted, with Pavia firing a quick seven-yard touchdown completion to Eli Stowers to cap off a 10-play, 80-yard drive. The Aggies gained the lead, 24-21.

Reed and the Hilltoppers offense took the field late in the third quarter, led by explosive plays between receiver Dalvin Smith and Young, as well as several defensive penalties, but were unable to score as redshirt freshman kicker Lucas Carneiro missed a short attempt to finish the drive. The Aggies continue their lead, 24-21.

After back-to-back punting drives between the Aggies and Tops, the New Mexico State offense took the field with the opportunity to make their lead a demanding one in the last quarter of play. The Aggies were able to capitalize, with Stowers taking it in on a short touchdown run from the Wildcat snap. The Aggies took the lead very late, 31-21. 

With 4:14 left to play and three timeouts left, the Hilltoppers offense took the field on their own 25-yard line with a must-score mindset. After a defensive penalty takes them to near midfield, Reed tosses an interception to Aggies safety Mehki Miller, who returns it for a pick-six. 38-21, the Aggies solidified their lead.

Taking the field again, the Hilltoppers offense ran a hurry-up style of offense. Reed found junior receiver Malachi Corley in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown. The offense stayed on the field to go for the two-point conversion successfully, with Corley getting his hands on the ball again. 29-38, the Aggies still retain the lead.

The Aggies got the ball back with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter and took to the victory formation after a quick first down. Pavia kneels and the Aggies win the ball game.

Western Kentucky drops to 3-3 in the conference and 5-5 on the season, while the Aggies advance to 6-1 in the conference and 8-3.

The Hilltoppers will take the field again for their final home game of the season on November 18, as they host Sam Houston State.

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