On Senior Night at the Sun Bowl The UTEP Miners took care of business against the Rice Owls on route to their 7th win of the season by a final score of 38 to 28 in front of a small but lively crowd of just over 10,000. The 7th victory guarantees the Miners their first winning season since the 2014 Campaign. Saturday’s win did not come without some adversity that UTEP has become accustomed to throughout the 2021 season.
The Miners got off to a great start receiving the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards in 9 plays when Gavin Hardison would through his first touchdown pass of the afternoon with a 7 yard pass to Jacob Cowing, both Hardison and Cowing would have career nights with Hardison throwing for 366 yards on 23 of 35 passing, while Cowing would have a career high with 11 receptions and 170 yards.
The score would put the Miners ahead 7-0 and the Miner defense would look good holding the Owls to three 3-and-outs on their first possession. The Miners would be unable to take advantage of the defensive effort letting Rice stay within a possession and Rice would finally get on the scoreboard with a 15 play 70 yard drive that would keep the UTEP Defense on the field for 8:45 and Running Back Ari Broussard would tie the game with his one yard touchdown run.
UTEP would answer the Rice score in just 1:45 as Hardison would lead the Miners down the field in 5 plays capped off by a 14 yard touchdown pass from Hardison to Justin Garret to regain the lead at 14-7.
The Miner defense seemingly played out an all too familiar script that has plagued UTEP throughout the season giving up touchdowns in the closing minutes of half, and unfortunately the Owls would provide a double dose starting with a 6 play drive that covered 69 yards in 2:30 capped off by a touchdown pass from Rice Quarterback Jake Constantine to Jack Bradley that would tie the score with 1:03 left in the 2nd Quarter.
The Miner offense looked to regain the momentum but Hardison would be intercepted by Rice’s Gabe Taylor at midfield and it would take the Owls only 2 plays and :18 second to score on Constantine’s second touchdown pass, a 33 yarder to Cedric Patterson to give the Owls their first and only lead of the game at 21-14.
The air seemingly let out of the balloon on Senior night, the Miners would come out and dominate the second half of play. The Miners defense would stop the Owls on their first drive and the offense would begin their biggest half of football on the 2021 season with a 15 play 75 yard drive that would lead to a 22 yard Gavin Baechle field goal making the score 21-17 Owls.
The Miners next offensive possession featured UTEP Running Back Ronald Awatt breaking off a 74 yard run to set the Miners up with a 1st and goal. Miner Back-up Quarterback Calvin Brownholtz would score his first of two 1 yard touchdowns in the short-yardage package to give the Miners a 24 to 21 lead.
The Miners would stop Rice again on defense and regain the ball and Ronald Awatt would break off another 65 yard run to set the Miners up with another 1st and goal that Running Back Quardraiz Wadley would finish with a 1 yard touchdown run giving the Miners a 31 to 21 lead with 12:54 to play.
The Miner defense would force Rice to punt on their next possession and the Miners would take over driving the ball 61 yards in 6 plays punched in by Calvin Brownholtz from the 1 yard line putting the Miners in control 38-21 with 9:02 to play. Rice’s only score on the second half would come after starting Quarterback Constaintine would be knocked out of the game and back up Luke McCaffery would drive the Owls 75 yards down the field running in on 4th and goal to cut the Miner lead to 38 to 28.
The UTEP Defense would hold Rice on their next possession to seal the victory and Gavin Hardison would take a series of knees to run out the clock.
The Miners ended their 3 game losing streak with the 38 to 28 victory over the Rice Owls improving to 7-4 overall on the season 4-3 in Conference USA and close out an impressive home schedule in which UTEP went 5-1 in games played in the Sun-Bowl.
Up next for the bowl-bound UTEP team will be a Black Friday Game in Birmingham Alabama against a UAB Team coming off a heart-breaking last second loss to UTSA. The Miners will look to claim second overall in the Western Division with a win on Friday after being predicted to finish last in the Division in the pre-season poll.
Chris Gomez Reporting