CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gavin Hardison threw for three touchdowns, Deion Hankins rushed for 112 yards, Tyrin Smith had 106 yards receiving and the UTEP defense scored 12 points as the Miners came away with their first-ever win in the Eastern time zone, 41-35 at Charlotte on Saturday night.

The Miners (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) have their first winning streak of the 2022 season, as they improved to 1-26-1 all-time when playing out East.

“It was a crazy game. Where do you start? We did so many good things in all three aspects. We knew [Charlotte] would be a test,” UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel said. “We knew they would score points, but we scored enough of our own points. We played with so much integrity on some drives. We didn’t give up on that first-and-goal and Jadrian [Taylor] got that big turnover for a 100-yard touchdown which was huge. We didn’t get that last first down to close the game out, but Ilijah [Johnson] came up with that big interception to end the game.”

Ilijah Johnson’s interception of Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds with a little over a minute remaining clinched the historic victory.

UTEP had a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter before staving off a late comeback attempt by the 49ers (1-5, 0-2 C-USA), who regained possession with 1:26 to play trailing by six prior to Johnson saving the day.  It was his first career interception, and the first pick thrown by Reynolds on the evening.

The Miners ended the first half with 24 unanswered points after Charlotte opened an early 7-0 lead.  Hardison connected with Smith (17 yards) and Trent Thompson (26 yards) for scores, and Tyrice Knight had a 13-yard fumble return for a score shortly before the break.  The last 14 points came in the final 33 seconds of the second quarter.

Following the Miners’ scoring binge to end the first half, the 49ers scored two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the second half to get back in the game.  Reynolds engineered a three-play, 70-yard drive, hitting Elijah Spencer for a 23-yard TD.  Then, following a fumble by the Miners’ Ronald Awatt, Reynolds found Eugene Minter Jr. for a 38-yard catch and Grant Dubose for a two-yard touchdown reception to make the score 24-21.

But the Miners had the answer, as Hardison, on third and six at the UTEP 42-yard line, found Smith streaking down the left sideline for a 58-yard TD to build the lead back to 10 (31-21).  Gavin Baechle’s 29-yard field goal made the score 34-21 heading to the final period.

The 49ers were driving for another score early in the fourth quarter, but ChaVon McEachern fumbled at the goal line, and Jadrian Taylor returned for a 100-yard touchdown. 

“Jadrian Taylor had been bothering me about being a running back,” Dimel said candidly. “I told him to leave me alone about it, but after seeing him run down the field I’ll take that, he looked pretty doing that.”

UTEP suddenly had a 20-point lead, but Charlotte wasn’t done.  Reynolds led the 49ers on two long scoring drives, the last ending with a 13-yard rushing TD by Shadrick Byrd, to make it 41-35 with 3:11 to play.

The Miners had season-highs with 41 points, 425 yards of offense and 252 rushing yards.

Hankins rushed 20 times for 112 yards, and Awatt added 88 yards on 13 carries.  Hardison scrambled five times for 50 yards.  He also completed 10-of-14 passes for 173 yards.

Reynolds completed 21-of-37 passes for 321 yards and four TD’s for Charlotte, which had 417 total yards.  Spencer snared seven catches for 160 yards.


The Miners are back on the road next Saturday (Oct. 8) when they play at LA Tech at 5 p.m. MT.  The game can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso and will be streamed on ESPN+.​