What has become a recurring theme for the Miners, the slow start reared its ugly head on Homecoming weekend as the Miners fell to the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee by a final score of 24-13.
The Blue Raiders took the opening kick-off and used tempo to drive down inside the Miner 10 Yard-Line where the Miner Defense led by Linebacker Cal Wallersedt’s career night that finished with 14 tackles including 2.5 tackle for a loss and 2 sacks forced Middle Tennessee to settle for a 23 Yard Zeke Rankin to take an early 3-0 lead with 12:14 to play in the opening quarter.
The Miners would struggle to get anything going offensively as Quarterback Gavin Hardison would be sacked 5 times on the night and intercepted once. The Blue Raiders would take advantage of great field position all night long with 3 of their drives starting in UTEP territory. Middle Tennessee Quarterback Chase Cunningham would throw the game’s first touchdown, a 17-yard strike to Jeremy Tate to give the Blue Raiders a 10-0 lead going into the second quarter.
The Miners would have their best quarter of the game in the second, first driving into Middle Tennessee territory only to have their drive stall and having to settle for a 47-yard Gavin Bachlie field goal. For Bachlie he continued his hot streak after missing on his first attempt of the season he has been perfect ever since nailing his last 16 in a row. The kick cut the lead to 10-3 with 11:12 left to play in the half.
The Miner defense would also have a good evening sacking Middle Tennessee Quarterback Chase Cunningham 4 times, and this gave the offense the opportunity to drive the ball down to the Middle Tennessee 6-yard line on a 14-play drive that would end with Gavin Hardison finding Tyrin Smith on a touchdown pass to tie the game a 10-10 just before the half. Tyrin Smith would finish the night with 10 catches, 177 yards and a touchdown.
UTEP came out the second half looking to take their first lead of the game and had a great opportunity on the first play of the 3rd quarter when quarterback Gavin Hardison would roll out and seemingly have Tight End Trent Thompson wide open for a sure touchdown that would have given UTEP the lead, but the normally sure-handed Thompson would drop the ball and the Miners would have a 3-and-out instead of a 7 point lead.
Middle Tennessee would capitalize on the Missed opportunity driving the ball to the Miner 6-yard line where Chase Cunningham would find DJ England Chsolm to retake the lead at 17-10. The Miners would fail to score in the 3rd quarter and played from behind the remainder of the game.
The Miners were able to drive deep into Middle Tennessee territory when Gavin Hardison would connect with Tyrin Smith for what the sparse Sun Bowl crowd thought was the equalizer only to have it called back for an offensive pass interference penalty on Reynaldo Flores forcing the Miners to have to take the 3 points on Gavin Bachlie’s second field goal for 47 yards cutting the lead to 17-13 with 7:30 to play.
On the next Blue Raider possession and first play Chase Cunningham would find Jaylin Lane on a 75-yard touchdown pass to extend the Blue Raider lead. Now trailing 24-13 the Miners were forced to become pass heavy and unable to score the rest of the way. Middle Tennessee would get the ball and run out the clock getting their first Conference USA victory of the season and improving to 4-4 overall.
For the 3rd time this season the Miners have fallen under :500 and have a short week to prepare for a Thursday Trip to face a Rice team in Houston coming off a disappointing loss to Charlotte. The Miners must now win 2 out of their next 3 games to become bowl eligible.
Story by Chris Gomez