The Miners’ hopes of back-to-back bowl appearances took a major blow on Thursday night as the Rice Owls defeated UTEP 37-30.
Rice Quarterback TJ McMahon tied a career high 334 passing yards and threw 2 touchdowns in route to defeating the Miners.
The Miners did something uncharacteristic to open the game, when for the first time in the 2022 season the Miners would score on their opening possession driving the ball 78 yards where Deon Hankins would score on a 2-yard touchdown run giving the Miners an early 7-0 lead.
Rice would score 10 unanswered points with a 43 yard field goal by kicker Christian Vansickle and following a Miner 3 and out a touchdown drive that would end on a Rice 2 yard touchdown run by Uriah West giving the Owls a 10-7 lead late in the 1st Quarter.
The Miners would tie the game on a 46 yard Gavin Baechle field goal, his first of 3 on the night extending his streak to 21 straight on the season. Baechle has been near perfect making 21 out of 22 field goals on the season.
Rice would quickly regain the lead, driving 75 yards in 1:40 to take a 17 to 10 lead on a TJ McMahon 2 yard running touchdown. The Miners would get the first big turnover of the night when Ilijah Johnson would pick off a McMahon pass at the Rice 47 giving UTEP the ball in prime field position.
The Miners would drive deep into Rice territory when Gavin Hardison would find fullback James Tupou on a 7 yard touchdown to tie the game at 17. Rice would add a field goal and take a 20-17 lead into the half.
The 3rd quarter would see both teams forcing punts on both of their opponents first two possessions. After a Miner Fumble recovery Gavin Baechle would kick a 51 yard field goal to tie the game at 20 with 3:40 to play in the 3rd quarter. Rice would find the endzone again on their next possession only needing 2:32 to drive 75 yards where McMahon would find Jack Bradley on a 27 yard touchdown pass giving Rice a 27-20 lead to open the quarter.
On UTEP’s next possession disaster would strike for the Miners as starting Quarterback Gavin Hardison would be injured and helped off the field bringing in veteran backup and short yardage specialist Calvin Brownholtz in relief of Hardison. Brownholtz would provide an offensive spark driving the Miners 75 yards with 39 yards running, capping off the score with a 25 yard touchdown run to tie the game at 27-27.
Rice would drive to the UTEP 20 yard and kick a field goal to retake the lead at 30-27 and 6:52 to play. The UTEP offense led by Brownholtz would have a golden opportunity to use the successful ground and pound to shorten the game and take a lead.
The Miners would drive 60 yards in 4:20 but fail to convert on 3rd and goal from the Rice 10 and have to settle for Baechle’s 3rd field goal to tie the game at 30.
Rice would take over on the ensuing kick with 2:35 to play running their 2 minute offense to perfection taking 2:10 to score on TJ McMahon’s second touchdown pass on the night a 23 yarder to Bradley Rozner taking a 37-30 lead with just :25 to play.
The Miners had one more desperate attempt to tie the game, playing the “lateral keep-away” from the Rice defense with no timeouts but would not come close as time expired. The Miners now have to be perfect in their next two games at home against an improved Florida International team before a road trip to league leading UTSA in order to get to bowl-eligibility.
The 37-30 setback leaves the Miners with a lot of uncertainty going into the longer than usual by-week due to the Thursday night game. Starting Quarterback Gavin Hardison’s health and return to the field in 2022 is the most pressing issue moving forward.
Story by Chris Gomez