UTEP took LA Tech down to the wire on Saturday afternoon in Ruston but Brandon Jones, on for the injured Ryan Metz, overthrew David Lucero in the end zone on fourth and 20 in the final seconds and the Bulldogs escaped with a 31-24 victory.
The Miners (0-7, 0-3 C-USA), playing a game where they were tied or leading in the fourth quarter for the first time since the 2016 season finale, knotted it at 24 on a 36-yard field goal by Jason Filley with 11:23 to go. On fourth and one at the UTEP 43 with under seven minutes remaining, LA Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith broke free for a 43-yard rushing score that proved to be the difference in the game.
The Miners started their final drive at their own 49 with 1:47 to go following a 16-yard punt return by Terry Juniel. They got to the Bulldog eight, but a 15-yard facemask penalty was a back breaker.
“Again, I liked the way the guys competed and fought, they really took it down to first and goal at the [eight] yard line and just didn’t complete the drive right there,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “LA Tech’s players stepped up, #45 [DE Jaylon Ferguson] is a heck of a player and he really brought some energy on that last drive and made some plays.”
The Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead with 8:00 remaining in the first quarter on a 19-yard interception return for a TD by L’Jarius Sneed. The Miners tied it up on a 25-yard TD pass from Metz to Keynan Foster with 5:55 to go in the period. Foster, who finished with four catches for 84 yards, picked up three receptions for 73 yards on the drive.
LA Tech marched down the field to regain the lead, moving 75 yards on three plays in 1:21 and pulling in front, 14-7, on a 19-yard TD pass from Smith to Adrian Hardy.
The Bulldogs extended their lead to 17-7 on a 19-yard field goal by Bailey Hale at the end of the half.
UTEP put together an impressive drive to start the second half but lost Metz in the process. After he single-handedly accounted for 59 yards on the drive (22 passing, 37 rushing), he exited with a possible concussion and in came Jones for his first action of the season. The Bakersfield College transfer scooted in for the six-yard touchdown run to pull the Miners within three at 17-14.
LA Tech pushed the lead back to 10 (24-14) on a five-yard touchdown run by Kam McKnight with 7:16 remaining in the third. But the Miners would counter once again with a 12-play, 78-yard drive, capped by a one-yard TD run by Jones to make it a three-point game (24-21) once again.
UTEP tied it at 24 on a 36-yard field goal by Jason Filley with 11:23 left in the fourth quarter.
“All in all, the first turnover was a big part of the ballgame where they scored that touchdown. That gave them a little bit of momentum,” Dimel said. “But again we rallied back and made it a good ballgame. And the [field goal] they got before the half to put them up 17-7 was a big play in the game as well. And then we came back in the second half and just kept fighting.”
Metz completed 11-of-17 passes for 164 yards and Jones completed 7-of-15 passes for 98 yards as the Miners registered a season-high 19 completions.
Smith completed 17-of-29 passes for 156 yards for LA Tech. Teddy Veal had 103 yards receiving and Jaqwis Dancy rushed for 93 yards.
A.J. Hotchkins posted 11 tackles for the Miners, who had a season-high four sacks including two by Denzel Chukwukelu. Ferguson was responsible for 3.5 of the Bulldogs’ four sacks.
“I was really pleased with the way our defense played throughout the whole game,” Dimel said. “They held them to pretty limited yardage and got into some tough situations where we weren’t establishing good field position early in the game, and our defense responded really, really well to that. So the overall play of the defense was really good against a good offensive football team. And then I liked the way the offense responded when we got down to our third quarterback. Brandon stepped up and did some really positive things.”
The Miners will return to the Sun Bowl to battle UAB on “Military Night” next Saturday (Oct. 27) at 5:30 p.m. The game will feature a postgame fireworks show.Call 747-5234 for tickets. Discounted tickets are available for all military members. Special group pricing and experiences are available by calling 747-6150.
“Right now our team is overcoming a lot of adversity and going out and fighting with a lot of heart and a lot of effort,” Dimel said. “It’s a fun team to watch play, and that’s what we appreciate the most. The people of El Paso should be proud with the way the football team is competing.”