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Aggies hope to pack stadium in Albuquerque


If you haven’t gotten your tickets to the Dec. 16 Isleta New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, it could already be too late. New Mexico State University Aggie fans were buying them at a rapid pace Monday and Sunday, the day the team learned it would face Fresno State in the game, which starts at 3:45 p.m. Mountain Time

University Stadium, on the University of New Mexico campus, is the host of the bowl, and seating capacity is 39,244.

“Our kids played in front of 85,000 in Auburn,” said Aggie coach Jerry Kill.

Note that’s more than twice the capacity of University Stadium. Of course, in Auburn, almost all the fans were rooting against the Aggies. This time, even though it’s the home stadium of NMSU’s rival UNM Lobos, it’s likely a large portion of the crowd will be rooting for the Aggies.

“What Coach Kill and the team has done in two years is nothing short of an amazing turnaround,” said NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia of the football program, which had an 8-30 record in the five years before Kill’s arrival in 2022. “And we have what looks to be a pretty bright future. And that’s why I think it’s critical this is the year we play in the New Mexico Bowl in front of what I think is going to be a record amount of Aggie fans that maybe have ever watched a New Mexico State football game live.”

“With some bowl games you go, to there’s not really very many people there,” Kill said. “With this one, you’re only three hours down the road, so it’s a lot easier to access for our fans, and we’ve got a lot of fans in Albuquerque. We’re representing the state of New Mexico, and we need all the fans we can get. Our kids are excited about it.”

The Aggies will roll into the game with a 10-4 record, the first time NMSU has had a 10-win season in Kill’s lifetime (and he was born in 1961). Last week, NMSU played in its first-ever conference championship game, suffering its first loss since September, falling to regular season conference champ Liberty, which improved its record to 13-0 and its AP national ranking to No. 18.

The Aggies were competitive throughout the back-and-forth game, and it was tied at 35-35 late in the third quarter, before some key turnovers stymied NMSU. The final score was 49-35, Liberty.

“Liberty’s got good players, I’m not going to take that away,” Kill said. “We’re good too, but when somebody beats you twice in a season, you’ve got to hand it to them.”

In the third quarter, NMSU starting quarterback Diego Pavia left with an arm injury and was replaced by true freshman Blaze Berlowitz, who promptly led the Aggies on a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 35. Despite not having thrown a pass all season, Berlowitz finished the game 10 of 19 passing, with a touchdown and an interception.

However, as of Monday, Dec. 4, it was not known if either Aggie quarterback would be 100 percent for the bowl game. Both were hurt in the game at Liberty.

“He’s getting an MRI,” Kill said of Pavia. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Kill said, “Blaze played his butt off in that game … take a true freshman and do that, it’s something. (Offensive coordinator Tim) Beck didn’t back off anything, we just went. We’re cautiously optimistic about both of them. They’ve both gotta get checked out, and they both feel better than they did the other night, that’s a good sign.”

Liberty, for its part, earned a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, and plays Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona Jan. 1.

“I’m excited for Liberty where they’re going,” Kill said. “It makes our conference better.”

It also means another payday for the Aggies, as part of Liberty’s revenue for earning the Fiesta Bowl berth will be divided among Conference USA teams.