The UTEP Miners returned to the Sun Bowl Saturday night and needed an entire half to get rolling on offense in their come from behind 20-13 victory against the New Mexico Lobos.
The renewed rivalry of old Western Athletic Conference foes forced the Miners to bring their grit and determination to capture their third win of the season.
Both defenses were dominant in the first parts of the 1st quarter trading 3-and-outs and punts and UTEP Defense would force a fumble off the pressure from Praise Amaewhule would force a fumble that the Miners would recover deep in Lobo territory. An intentional grounding call on UTEP Quarterback Gavin Hardison would force place kicker Gavin Baechle to try a 50 yard field which he missed wide-right and the Lobos would take over. Lobo Quarterback Terry Wilson would open the scoring on an 8 play 67 Yard drive scoring on a 12 Yard Quarterback keeper to put New Mexico up 7-0.
UTEP would answer the New Mexico score with an 8 play 72-yard drive that would stall in the red-zone forcing Kicker Baechle to convert on a 33-yard field goal giving the Miners their first and only points of the first-half and making the score 7-3.
The Lobos would answer the Miners score with a 9 play drive capped off by kicker Andrew Shelley’s 43 yard field goal making the score 10-3.
The Rocky Long Coached Lobo 3-3-5 Defense would give the Miner Offense fits in the first half holding the Miner offense to a total of 100 yards. Gavin Hardison would try to engineer a drive to close out the half only to force a pass into coverage that was intercepted by New Mexico Defensive Back Ronald Wilson, and the New Mexico Lobos instead found themselves driving the ball down with :49 seconds left in the half where Shelley would hit a 31 yard field goal as the half expired to give the Lobos a 13-3 lead and seemingly all the momentum going into half-time.
An inspired UTEP Miner Team would receive the second half kickoff and would only need 1:33 of the third quarter to score their first touchdown of the game on an 8 play 84 yard drive.
On the drive Quarterback Hardison would convert on a big 3rd and 21 finding Jacob Cowing down the field. The Miners would bring in El Paso Native Back Deon Hankins in the wildcat formation and score on a 4 yard touchdown making the score 13-10.
The Miner defense would force a quick 3-and-out and immediately get the ball back only 3 plays and :50 to cover 67 yards thanks to a Hardison to Cowing 55 yard touchdown pass, and just like that the Miners had their first lead of the ball came with just under 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter at 17-13.
The Miner defense would then take over and dominate the remainder of the game, with fierce play by their front seven lead by Praise Amaewhule who would finish his big night with 7 quarterback hurries and 2 pass-deflections at the line.
New Mexico’s offense could not get anything going, the second half being held to only 20 yards until their final possession. The Miners would get their second turnover of the game when UTEP Safety Dy’vonne Inyang would intercept a Terry Wilson pass in New Mexico territory giving the Miners a golden opportunity to put more distance between themselves and the the Lobos, however UTEP for a second time was unable to capitalize on the turnover being stopped on a 4th and 1 in the red zone to turn the ball over on downs.
The Miners would drive deep into Lobo territory to be forced into another 4th and short situation, this time Coach Dana Dimel would opt to settle for a Baechle field goal from 44 yards extending their lead to 20-13 with 2:20 to play.
On their final possession New Mexico would have their best scoring opportunity of the second half driving down to the Miner 28 yard line after converting a key fourth down early in the drive with under a minute to play. Needing a touchdown to tie the game the Lobos where forced to go for it on a second 4th down but a Terry Wilson pass would fall incomplete with :26 to play and the Miners took over with Gavin Hardison taking a knee to seal the gritty victory for the Miners by a 20-13 Final.
UTEP for a second straight year starts with a 3-1 record after four games and looks to continue their momentum as they open Conference USA play against an Old Dominion team coming off a near come-from-behind loss to Buffalo next week in the Sun Bowl.
The Miners are trying to avoid the let down that came after their fast start last season and should not be faced with the challenges of teams being able to avoid coming to the Sun Bowl during Conference play last season and outright canceling games all together.
The Second Half of this victory over their regional rival could be the pivotal point of their first winning season since 2014.
Chris Gomez Reporting