JACKSONVILLE, Alabama (KTSM) — UTEP (0-1, 0-1 Conference USA) suffered a 17-14 defeat to FBS newcomer Jacksonville State (1-0, 1-0 Conference USA) in its 2023 season opener at JSU Stadium on Saturday.

UTEP’s hopes of securing a win in the first game of the season crashed down after quarterback Gavin Hardison threw his second interception of the day on 4th and 1 at JSU’s 24-yard line with 1:21 to go in the game and down, 17-14.

“It was a dogfight to the bitter end,” UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel said. “We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. After the game I told [the team] it came down to a couple plays that would’ve made a difference in the football game.”

UTEP will forever be in Jax State’s history books as that was the program secured its first a win in its first ever FBS level game.

UTEP’s dream start to the game actually turned out to be a dream. In the first quarter, Hardison connected with Kelly Akharaiyi for a 49-yard touchdown pass, but when reviewed by officials, the call was reversed and called an incomplete pass after it was seen that Akharaiyi didn’t have control of the ball coming down after the initial catch.

UTEP’s first score of the game was wiped off the board and they would go on to not grab any points later in that drive.

In the second quarter, already up 3-0 after a made field goal, Jax State extended its lead to 10-0 after a 4-yard touchdown run by Ron Wiggins with 13:26 to go in the quarter.

The next two drives for UTEP ended badly. A 12 play, 49-yard drive that took up seven minutes of clock ended in a missed field goal by freshman Buzz Flabiano from 43-yards out. UTEP’s next drive ended with in a turnover after Hardison was sacked and lost the ball on 3rd & 4 at JSU’s 28-yard line.

UTEP’s bright moment in the first half came in the last two minutes. The Miners put together a 9 play, 74-yard drive that ended with a Deion Hankins’ rushing touchdown from JSU’s 1-yard line to give UTEP its first score of the game with :06 left in the half.

Jax State held a 10-7 lead over UTEP at halftime.

UTEP’s first drive of the second half didn’t end well as Hardison threw his first interception of the game.

Later in the third quarter, UTEP pumped up a new energy into them after Hardison connected with Akharaiyi for a 32-yard touchdown pass. Flabiano made the extra point and UTEP trailed Jax State, 17-14.

UTEP’s defense came up clutch after that as they forced Jax State to punt in its next two drives. That led to UTEP regaining possession at their own 12-yard line with 4:41 left in the game, still down by three.

UTEP marched all the way down to JSU’s 24-yard line after six runs plays and one pass play. On 3rd and 1, Hardison targeted a deep pass for Akharaiyi in the end zone but the pass wasn’t caught. On the next play, facing 4th and 1, Hardison dropped back for a pass play and was picked off by Jeremiah Harris.

That ended UTEP’s drive and hopes of winning the game as JSU would go onto run out the remaining time on the clock by kneeling down.

Up next, UTEP will aim to grab its first win of the 2023 season when it welcomes in Incarnate Word on Saturday, Sept. 2 at the Sun Bowl.

GAME NOTES (Courtesy: UTEP Athletics)

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – UTEP had possession in the final seconds with a chance to win, but missed on a pair of plays, sending Jacksonville State to a narrow 17-14 victory on Saturday at Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium.

The Gamecocks (1-0, 1-0 Conference USA) opened with a victory in their first ever game as an FBS program and first in CUSA. The Miners (0-1, 0-1 CUSA) outgained their opponent 364 to 275 yards of total offense and 22 to 15 on first downs. UTEP controlled the clock at 34:38 to JSU’s 25:22, but the Gamecocks rushed for 208 yards on 44 attempts (4.7 avg.) and two scores.

“It was a dogfight to the bitter end,” UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel said. “We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. After the game I told [the team] it came down to a couple plays that would’ve made a difference in the football game.”

Gavin Hardison 17-of-29 for 208 and a TD with a pair of interceptions, including his second pick in the final seconds that clinched the win for JSU. Hardison’s TD gives him 36 in his career, now ranking third on the program’s all-time list.

The Miners forced the Gamecocks to punt getting the ball back at their own 12 with 4:41 left in the contest. Hardison found Kelly Akharaiyi on a 21-yard pass to the JSU 44, and followed that with an 11-yard run to the JSU 33. After Torrance Burgess Jr. tallied nine yards on a back-to-back carries to the JSU 24, Hardison missed on Akharaiyi in the end zone on a play broken up by Derek Carter.

UTEP went for it on a fourth-and-1, but Jeremiah Harris picked off Hardison’s pass to seal the win.

Burgess Jr. led the team with a career-high 58 yards, while Deion Hankins rushed for 54 yards and a score. Akharaiyi gained a career-high 104 yards on four receptions with a score.

Jax State took a 17-7 lead following a Malik Jackson rushing score, but UTEP got within three points (17-14).

The Miners took advantage of a JSU missed field goal (44-yard attempt) and got back into the ball game after Hardison found Akharaiyi on a 32-yard touchdown reception with 12:19 left in the contest. UTEP drove the ball 74 yards on eight plays that took 4:02 off the clock.

JSU struck first on an Alen Karajic 40-yard field goal at the 4:57 mark of the first quarter. The Gamecocks started at the UTEP 47 after a failed fourth-down conversion by the Miners.

The Gamecocks took a 10-0 lead at the 13:26 mark of the second quarter after a 12-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a Ron Wiggins’s four-yard touchdown rush.

The Miners had a chance to get on the board but redshirt freshman kicker Buzz Flabiano missed his first career attempt was a 43-yard miss wide right at the 6:26 mark in the second.

Hankins finally got the Miners on the board with no time left in the first half after scoring on a one-yard surge into the end zone. UTEP drove the ball 74 yards on nine plays. The Miners forced JSU to punt, getting the ball back at their own 26 with 1:31 left in the half. Two key plays that kept the drive going was a career-long 19-yard reception that was followed by a targeting call by JSU’s Larry Worth that moved the ball to the JSU 29. On a third-and-9, Hardison attempted a pass to Akharaiyi that resulted in a passing interference to the JSU 2.

Hankins now has 19 career rushing TDs, ranking tied ninth with three Miners on the program’s all-time list.

UTEP opened the second half with a turnover. After three consecutive running plays, two by Hankins that included a 20-yard run, Hardison threw his first interception of the game to Kolbi Fuqua.

JSU went up 17-7 in the middle of the third quarter on a Malik Jackson seven-yard score. On the previous play, Jackson sprinted down the sideline for 44 yards before being pushed out of bounds by McKel Broussard.

Tyrice Knight led the team with 13 tackles, giving him 13-career double-digit tackle performances in his career, while fellow linebacker James Neal in his first start tallied 10 stops.

Praise Amaewhule got off to a fast start with his first sack of the season, while also recording four tackles and a QB hurry. Amaewhule has 18.5 career sacks, needing 2.5 to become the program’s all-time leader.

For the Gamecocks, Quae Drake led the team with 11 tackles, while Harris had eight stops. Jackson gained 76 yards on 13 carries (5.8 avg.), Wiggins gained 63 yards and scored a TD, while Webb had 55 yards on 10 carries.


UTEP will host Incarnate Word on Sept. 2 in the Sun Bowl. The Miners and Cardinals are set to kick off at 7 p.m., while the contest will be streamed on ESPN+ and can be heard on 95.5 KLAQ. For tickets, call 915.747.UTEP, email tickets@utep.edu or visit the Eisenberg Family Ticket Office located at 201 Glory Road.