EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP’s finish to its Conference USA opener vs. Old Dominion was just as electric as the Miners’ beginning and they’ll work on the rest as they go.
The Miners defeated the Monarchs 28-21 on Saturday night at the Sun Bowl to improve to 4-1 on the season. UTEP is 4-1 for the first time since 2010 and snapped a 15-game C-USA losing streak with the victory over Old Dominion (1-4).
“I just felt like the whole time we were the better team, and were going to find a way to win the game,” said UTEP coach Dana Dimel. “That’s kind of the thing we talked about, expecting to win. Our football team expected to win, that’s when you make a big turn. That’s a big stride for a football team. We’ve taken ourselves to that point where no matter what happens in a game, we expect to win. That’s gigantic.”
UTEP came roaring out of the gates, jumping out to a 17-0 lead, ultimately leading 17-7 at halftime. Gavin Hardison found Justin Garrett and Tyrin Smith for the Miners’ two touchdowns in the first half.
“We played really, really good football the first 28 minutes of the first half,” said Dimel. “We executed and we had the one drive that ate up almost the whole second quarter, and it was really, really big for us. We finished drives, but had to settle for a field goal on one of those drives. I really like the way we executed in the first half. In the second half, we came out and didn’t have a good start. We ended up making a big play and got a field goal.”
Old Dominion would control the third quarter and took a 21-20 lead with 4:27 remaining in the third after a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by AC White.
Much like last week’s win over New Mexico, a younger, inexperienced team likely would’ve folded after Old Dominion the comeback. Once again, the Miners proved that the 2021 edition of the squad is different.
With Gavin Hardison temporarily sidelined with an injury, Calvin Brownholtz came in the game and engineered a 9-play, 63-yard drive to take the lead, capped by a Deion Hankins three-yard touchdown run with 6:59 remaining. Hardison returned to the field for the two-point conversion, threading the needle to Garrett to give UTEP a 28-21 lead.
From there, the Miners’ defense took center stage. On the ensuing Monarchs possession, Dy’vonne Inyang intercepted DJ Mack with under 4:30 remaining. The game was far from over, though. UTEP’s defense would have to make two more stops, finally getting off the field on downs with under one minute left in the game with the victory.
Praise Amaewhule came up huge on Old Dominion’s final drive, recording a sack and a pass break-up on consecutive plays. Amaewhule led the Miners with eight tackles, a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Hardison threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, but the Miners will monitor his injury this week. He was able to return to the contest, so it appears he could be available next week vs. Southern Miss. With a smile, he said he was, “perfectly okay,” in the postgame press conference on Saturday night.
Hankins carried the ball 22 times for 70 yards and a touchdown, leading a Miners running back corps that rushed for 142 yards.
UTEP’s comeback win was the first time since 2015 that the Miners overcame a fourth quarter deficit to win, snapping a 45-game losing streak in that scenario.
Next up for the 4-1 Miners is a date on the road at Southern Miss (1-4), a very winnable game in C-USA play. A victory would get UTEP to within one victory of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.