EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Facing a must-win situation at home on Senior Day, UTEP couldn’t have been much worse in the first half vs. Rice on Saturday. The Miners completely flipped the script after halftime.
Trailing by seven points at the break, UTEP outscored the Owls by 17 points in the second half to defeat Rice 38-28 and improve to 7-4, 4-3 in Conference USA play. The victory clinched the first winning season since 2014 for the Miners, when they finished 7-6 and lost to Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.
UTEP racked up almost 500 yards of offense in the victory, as Gavin Hardison threw for a career-high 366 yards on 23-35 passing and two touchdowns, while wide receiver Jacob Cowing continued his torrid redshirt sophomore season with 11 receptions for 170 yards and a score.
“Gavin played his kind of game,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said. “He was aggressive, we were attacking, he was making great plays, the receivers were making tremendous catches, [Gavin] was making really, really good throws and [we] just used a whole different element of our offense. Tonight we put that out there and [we] were able to execute. And we need to do that, because we’ve had some close, tough losses playing our brand of football. This game we needed to be more aggressive, and the guys went out and played really aggressive and showed that they can have a different dimension to our offense.”
Ronald Awatt rushed for 119 yards on nine carries, 74 of them coming on one carry in the fourth quarter.
Things started well for UTEP, as they led 7-0 after one quarter and 14-7 late in the second quarter. However, a Rice touchdown with a minute remaining in the half tied the game at 14; then, the Owls were able to add to their lead after a Hardison interception turned into a 33-yard touchdown catch by Cedrick Patterson. Just like that, the Miners trailed 21-14 at the half.
They came out firing in the second half, though. UTEP scored on its first four drives of the second half, netting a field goal and three touchdowns to take a 38-21 advantage. Rice (3-8, 2-5 C-USA) scored a late touchdown to make it a 10-point game again, but the damage was done; arguably the Miners best half of the season gave them the win.
“I thought our defense, again, played really good throughout the whole game,” Dimel said. “You’re going to give up a few plays. The momentum kind of switched on the interception at the end of the second quarter when I was trying to be aggressive and get some points on the board because they got the ball to start the second half. But again, even after all that, the defense comes out and plays a really good second half.”
The victory sent UTEP’s 10-player senior class out in style in their final game at the Sun Bowl. A class that has been through some hard times – a winless campaign in 2017, then back-to-back one-win seasons in 2018 and 2019 – will officially finish their careers with a winning record and a trip to a bowl game.
“They’ve helped us out a lot with the leadership they bring. It’s really helping out the younger guys and will get us on the right track going into next season and the seasons after that,” said Awatt.”
UTEP will wrap up the regular season on the road Friday, Nov. 26, at UAB.