EL PASO, TEXAS – UTEP battled Mountain West power Nevada on virtually even terms for three quarters, but the Wolf Pack took control in the final frame and escaped El Paso with a 37-21 victory on Saturday night.
The Miners (1-2) trailed 24-21 heading into the final period before Nevada (3-1), an eight-game winner and Arizona Bowl champion in 2018, pulled away down the stretch.
“I wanted to put the whole night into perspective,” head coach Dana Dimel said. “You are going against a Nevada team that was 8-5 last year and an upper Mountain West divisional foe. The turnovers and the penalties ended up having a major influence on the outcome of the game. It would be very easy to look at that game say it could have easily been a 37-21 victory for us if certain plays were made here or there, we eliminate a couple of the huge penalties that we had and if we don’t turn the ball over. Overall, I thought our defense played fine. They can play better, but they got some short fields at times. We have to do a better job of not throwing the ball to the other football team. If you talk about the overall pace of the game and physicality that we played with, you can see we are making some huge strides as a football team. They are an upper Mountain West team and it was a very competitive football game throughout the night.”
The Wolf Pack took advantage of a Kai Locksley interception deep in Miner territory late in the third quarter. Kelton Moore’s five-yard rushing touchdown extended Nevada’s lead to 30-21. UTEP’s next drive stalled at its own 43-yard line, and the Wolf Pack put the game away with an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive, as Moore found the end zone once again on a one-yard scamper.
The UTEP offense gained 253 yards on 50 plays (5.1 avg.) in the first three quarters, but was held to 25 yards on 14 plays (1.8 avg.) in the final period.
Still, it was an encouraging performance on a lot of fronts for UTEP, which opens Conference USA play at Southern Miss next week.
Locksley and Brandon Jones split time at quarterback for the Miners, combining to complete 10-of-17 passes for 116 yards. Jones was 8-for-11 for 106 yards with an interception, and Locksley was 2-for-6 for 10 yards with two picks.
The Miners enjoyed more success running the ball, as they gained 162 yards on 47 carries with Treyvon Hughes (17 carries-80 yards) and Josh Fields (10 carries-44 yards) carrying the load.
Wolf Pack quarterback Cristian Solano beat the Miners with his arm and his feet, as he finished 13-of-19 passing for 182 yards and two TD’s, while also gaining 100 yards on 10 rushes.
The Miners got the fast start that they needed, forcing a three-and-out on the Wolf Pack’s first series then driving 70 yards on 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Hughes rushed five times for 41 yards in the sequence, including a four-yard touchdown.
After the Wolf Pack knotted the score early in the second quarter, the teams traded turnovers. The Miners, however, were able to convert a forced fumble by Miles Banks and recovery by Michael Lewis into their second touchdown of the night. Hughes’ six-yard rushing TD capped a 10-play, 86-yard drive, and UTEP had a 14-7 advantage.
Nevada answered with back-to-back touchdowns and went to the locker room leading 21-14, as Solano connected with Elijah Cooks on a pair of long touchdown passes. Cooks finished with four receptions for 82 yards.
The Miners tied it up with an epic 17-play, 75-yard drive elapsing 9:59 in time to start the third quarter. Fifteen of the 17 plays were of the rushing variety, including the last 12. Kai Locksley’s quarterback sneak from the one-yard line knotted the game at 21 with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter.
Nevada took the lead for good, 24-21, on a 27-yard field goal by Brandon Talton with 1:49 to go in the third quarter.
The Wolf Pack scored two touchdowns off the Miners’ three interceptions.
Justin Prince was UTEP’s leading tackler for the second straight game with 10 stops. The Miner defense forced two turnovers, leading to seven points, and yielded 403 yards.
UTEP will kick off C-USA action at Southern Miss (2-3, 0-0 C-USA) next Saturday (Sept. 28) at 5 p.m. MT. The game will be streamed on ESPN+. The Miners’ next home game is versus UTSA on Homecoming Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. MT. For tickets starting at just $12, call (915) 747-5234.