EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – A game-winning field goal with :04 left from UTEP senior kicker Gavin Baechle gave the Miners a 24-21 victory over Florida Atlantic at the Sun Bowl on Saturday.
With the win, UTEP is now back at a .500 winning percentage with a 4-4, 2-2 Conference USA record at this point of the season.
Both teams struggled to put points on the board when the game started. FAU went into halftime with a 7-6 lead after a 32-yard rushing touchdown from Larry McCammon at the 2:33 mark of the second quarter.
Later in the second quarter, Baechle would successfully make his second field goal of the game at that point to send UTEP into halftime down by one.
It was in the second half when the game picked up. With 5:22 left in the third quarter, the Owls drew first blood in the second half after UTEP junior quarterback Gavin Hardison was picked off by Teja Young who then returned it for a touchdown. FAU took a 14-6 lead after that play.
UTEP responded well after allowing that score. With 5:15 left in the third quarter, the Miners’ offense put together a three-play, 78-yard drive that tied the game at 14. The big play of the drive though came from UTEP junior running back Deion Hankins, as he broke free for a 72-yard run to get UTEP to FAU’s 5-yard-line. After that, Hardison finished the drive with a short touchdown run and followed up with a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
UTEP would go up 21-14 after a Hardison to Rey Flores 4-yard touchdown pass with 12:11 in the fourth quarter. Almost seven minutes later, the Owls returned fire with a 17-yard N’Kosi Perry to Austin Evans touchdown pass to pull the Owls back within one, 21-20. All the Owls would need is the extra point to tie the game. The extra-point attempt was blocked by Praise Amaewhule and Latrez Shelton returned it to the endzone.
That would have given the Miners a 23-20 lead, but because Amaewhule’s helmet came off after the kicked ball knocked off it off his head and he continued to play without it, an unsportsmanlike foul was called on the play.
That gave FAU another chance to tie the game with the extra point and they did.
With the game tied at 21, UTEP got the ball back with 4:36 left and drove down the field to get to FAU’s 10-yard-line. With :04 remaining in the game, the 13 play, 65-yard drive was capped off by a 27-yard game-winning field goal by Baechle.
“During the drive, the 3rd and 7 play was critical and that was the point that I saw that we were in a spot where if we get one more first down, we could grind out the clock and we got one of the best field goal kickers that you could ever want,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “At that point it was trying to eat the clock, be smart, try to get the ball as close, and he likes to kick off the right hash, that is his favorite spot to kick off of, so we positioned the ball to where he feels most comfortable.”
The Miners would take the win off of the 51st field goal of Baechle’s career, which set a new UTEP program record. Per UTEP Athletics, Baechle’s winning field goal is the first walk off FG for UTEP since Dakota Warren hit an 18-yarder as time expired in a 16-13 win against Memphis on Sept. 25, 2010, in the Sun Bowl.
UTEP now moves to 4-4, 2-2 Conference USA on the season, which is a big-time step in the right direction for a program that is looking to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2004 and 2005.
Up next, UTEP (4-4, 2-2 Conference USA) will host Middle Tennessee (3-4, 0-3 Conference USA) on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7:00 p.m. MT at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.