EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Their backs were against the wall, but UTEP didn’t flinch.
Trailing rival New Mexico (2-2) 13-3 at halftime on Saturday night at Sun Bowl Stadium, the Miners could’ve folded. A younger rendition of UTEP likely would have. But, not this time.
Wearing its 1960s Texas Western throwback uniforms, UTEP rattled off 17 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Lobos 20-13, improving to 3-1 for the second year in-a-row. It’s the first time the Miners have started 3-1 in back-to-back seasons since 1987-88.
“I didn’t have to say much at halftime. You heard a bunch of angry guys with positive leadership. We couldn’t have choreographed a better finish,” said head coach Dana Dimel after the victory.
The Miners were electric out of the halftime locker room. After struggling in the first half, Gavin Hardison hit Justin Garrett for a 40-yard gain inside the New Mexico five-yard line on the Miners’ first drive of the second half. Deion Hankins, in his first game back from injury, scored one play later to cut the deficit to 13-10.
“I know that I didn’t play very well in the first half,” said Hardison. “I don’t want losing to be on me, so I’m going to do everything I can to bounce back and execute.”
After forcing a Lobos three-and-out, UTEP wasted little time, putting together a three-play, 67-yard drive that was capped with a Hardison 55-yard deep ball to a wide-open Jacob Cowing that put UTEP in front for good. Cowing ended the evening with seven catches for 174 yards and the scoring strike.
“Just with the second half, we know what kind of team we are,” said Cowing. “We have to continue with that confidence. We have to continue to practice the way we have up and to this point, and honestly, I think we can really shock the nation with what kind of team we are.”
From there, it was the UTEP defense that took over. Dy’Vonne Inyang intercepted UNM’s Terry Wilson in the third quarter, but beyond that, the Miners forced the Lobos into five second half punts.
Defensive lineman Praise Amaewhule was once again instrumental in the Miners’ second half comeback, recording a sack, a forced fumble and seven quarterback hurries in the victory.
“It just shows you what winning can do for a program,” said Amaewhule. “We have come a long ways. I have been here since 2018 — it’s a process and you have to trust the process and be patient. It’s a great feeling going into conference [play].”
Gavin Hardison shook off the rough first half to finish 15-29 for 293 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Wide receiver Justin Garrett logged four receptions for 105 yards in the win.
The win is no doubt the biggest and most important of the Dana Dimel era at UTEP, securing that 3-1 start with Old Dominion (1-3) coming to El Paso to open Conference USA play next week. The Monarchs lost to Buffalo 35-34 on Saturday after trailing 35-7 at the half. After that, it’s a trip to Southern Miss (1-3), which was beat by top-ranked Alabama 63-14 on Saturday.
It’s one for the Miners to build on as they hit the conference portion of their schedule, and one that could eventually be what propelled them to a bowl game, if they qualify.