UTEP was christened the better team heading into the 99th renewal of the Battle of I-10 going into Saturday nights game against the Aggies. Everyone from the UTEP fans to the odds makers had the Miners as a heavy favorite, and at times in the first half the game seemed to be going in that direction with the Miners jumping out to a 17-0 lead going into halftime. Nobody mentioned to the upstart Aggies and new head coach Jerry Keel that they were supposed to lay down for an easy victory. In fact, a seemingly blowout first-half turned into a nailbiter that went down to the final seconds as the Miners escaped with a 20-13 win over their long-time rival.
The Miner’s who showed glimpses against Oklahoma of a team righting the ship were plagued throughout the night with the same self-inflicted problems that made this game closer than it probably should have been. The Miners took the opening kickoff and started off with a promising opening drive holding the ball for 8:18 of the first quarter only to have the drive stall in the red zone at the NMSU 12-yard line forcing UTEP to settle for a 29 yard Gavin Baechle field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
On the Aggies first possession the Miner Defense would step up stopping a promising NMSU drive at the UTEP 26 when starting Aggie Quarterback Gavin Frakes’ pass would be batted in the air and picked off by Miner Linebacker Tyrice Night.
Off the turnover the Miner Offense would go 72 yards in 12 plays only to have UTEP give the ball back to the Aggies due to a bad exchange by Gavin Hardison to Deon Hankins, another lost scoring opportunity in the red zone. The Miner Defense would tighten up even more forcing 4 Aggie 3-and-outs and another turnover.
In the 2nd Quarter the Miners Offense seemed to find its rhythm going on a 7 play 65-yard drive capped off by a Gavin Hardison to Tyrin Smith 9 yard touchdown pass giving UTEP a 10-0 lead.
On the next UTEP possession the Miners would extend their lead when Running Back Ronald Awatt would carry the ball 22 yards for a Touchdown giving UTEP a 17-0 lead. Awatt had a breakout performance carrying the ball 21 times for 110 yards and a Touchdown.
At this point of the game the Miners seemed to be in cruise control and on their way to a dominant victory, however the two teams would go into the locker room, and two completely different teams would seemingly emerge.
To start the second half the UTEP Defense picked up where they left off forcing the Aggies to punt after only one first down. Poised to get the ball back and extend the lead the game would dramatically change on the punt as Miner return man Marcus Bellon would muff the punt on UTEP’s 14-yard line giving the Aggies new life and the ball.
On the ensuing play NMSU sparked by a Quarterback change to Diego Pavia would score on a 14-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 17-6 after a blocked extra point. UTEP’s Offense would struggle throughout the second half only possessing the ball a total of 4 times, going 3 and out on three out of the four possessions.
The Miners loan promising drive came at the end of the 3rd quarter lasting 8 plays but stalling in Aggie territory and forcing UTEP to settle for their only points of the second half a 49-yard Gavin Baechle field goal making the score 20-6.
The 4th quarter became a test of will especially for the Miner Defense who spent much of the second half on the field due to UTEP’s Offensive woes. The Aggies would go on a 16 play 75-yard drive that ate up 9:22 of the quarter ending with Aggie Quarterback Diego Pavia’s second touchdown run of the evening for 11 yards bringing NMSU within one score cutting the Miner lead to 20-13.
The Miners desperately needing a momentum shift would go 3-and-out and punt the ball back to the Aggies with 4:00 left to play and NMSU with all the momentum ready to send the game into overtime. The Aggies drove the ball 60 yards and for a moment tied the game on a strange forward pass that bounced and was picked up on the bounce and taken into the endzone by Kordell David. After official review, the pass was eventually ruled incomplete.
The Aggies would resume the drive with 15 seconds left to play when Aggie Quarterback Diego Pavia would be hit and fumble, recovered by UTEP’s Cal Wallerstedt with :03 left to play at the Miner 13 yard-line securing the UTEP Victory.
The Miners got their first victory of the 2022 season and now shift their focus to back-to-back opponents from the Mountain West Conference, the first coming on the road next Saturday night in Albuquerque versus the New Mexico Lobos.
The Miners look to improve their offensive troubles and get back to .500 on the season. The Aggies in their final season as an independent will go on the road to face the Wisconsin Badgers of the Big 10.
Chris Gomez Reporting