Fast start lifts Middle Tennessee over UTEP, 48-32

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Brent Stockstill threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns as Conferense USA East Division leader Middle Tennessee won for the sixth time in seven games with a 48-32 win over UTEP on Saturday afternoon.

Ty Lee recorded 10 catches for a career-high 158 yards for Middle Tennessee (7-3, 6-1 C-USA), which jumped out to a 14-0 lead and scored 27 of the game’s first 34 points.

The tone was set early as Middle Tennessee drove 75 yards on nine plays for a touchdown on its opening possession, then capitalized on a UTEP fumble to score again less than three minutes later.

“That was a pretty frenetic game for sure, a lot of stuff going on,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said.  “I obviously wasn’t happy with the way we started the ballgame.  On the first drive we got them into a third and long, they converted (it) and got a nice drive going.  They got the first score in.  But then offensively, we had a turnover right after that and put them in good field position.  So I wasn’t happy at all with our early execution.  It allowed them to get some momentum on the road.  You’ve got to come out and start faster and start a little more precise than we did tonight.  And from then, we were just playing behind.” 

The game got away from the Miners after they pulled within a touchdown (14-7) on a seven-yard rushing score by Quardraiz Wadley early in the second quarter.  Middle Tennessee tacked on a couple more touchdowns in the quarter, and UTEP couldn’t get closer than 16 points in the second half.

The Miners did get the ball back down a couple of scores with 3:25 to go, but Kai Locksley was sacked twice on the series and UTEP was unable to pick up a first down.

“We made some runs in the game,” Dimel said.  “We got some deficits there that were larger than what we’ve been in for quite a while, but again our team rebounded in those types of situations and showed a lot of fight and a lot of character.  I really liked what they did as far as making plays and battling.  Our defense was out there quite a bit, but they battled and they battled and did some really positive things even though to the naked eye it may not appear that way.  And then our offense found some rhythm in the second half and responded, had some success.”

A late flurry gave the Miners (1-9, 1-5 C-USA) a season high for points. They have scored 30+ points in consecutive C-USA games for the first time since the 2014 season.  UTEP scored 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Wadley had a big day for UTEP, rushing 15 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns while going over 1,000 yards (1,019) for his career.

Stockstill was precision-sharp for Middle Tennessee, completing 31-of-40 passes with no interceptions.

“He played as good of a game as any quarterback I’ve been around for quite a while,” Dimel said.  “That kid really, really played a ballgame today.  He put some passes in some spots and he had to go to his third, fourth and fifth progressions at times and he does it so quickly and gets out there.  You can just tell that he grew up in the game, he’s talented and he’s got some moxie and some savvy to what he does.” 

The Blue Raiders gained 491 yards to the Miners’ 333.

Locksley and Brandon Jones both saw action for the Miners at quarterback, combining to complete 18-of-39 passes for 218 yards.  The tight ends had a huge afternoon for UTEP, as Josh Weeks (4-71) and David Lucero (4-62) were the top two receivers.

UTEP had a pair of double-figure tacklers in A.J. Hotchkins (14) and Nik Needham (10), while Reed Blankenship led Middle Tennessee with nine tackles and two pass breakups.

The special teams standout for the Miners was Terry Juniel with 95 kickoff return yards and 21 punt return yards.  He now ranks ninth in school history with 1,103 kickoff return yards.

“Overall our execution can be better than what it was today, but our effort was tremendous,” Dimel said.

The Miners will play their final road game of 2018 next Saturday (Nov. 17) at WKU. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. MT and the game will be televised on beIN Sports.

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