The New Mexico State football team renewed the 96th meeting with Battle of I-10 rival UTEP on Saturday night at Sun Bowl Stadium. A much-anticipated game did not disappoint with strong play on both sides of the ball and turnovers proved crucial with the Aggies taking down the rival Miners, 27-20.
In a back-and-forth opening half, the first drive of the game set the tone for what turned out to be an eventful first two quarters. NM State (1-4) forced a three-and-out on the opening drive and as UTEP (0-4) elected to punt, the Aggies decided to avoid the return. Christian Gibson shot around the corner to block the punt and Izaiah Lottie recovered the ball that he took back for a 19-yard score to put the Crimson & White ahead 7-0 just 1:55 into the contest.
The Miners were able to answer on their next drive to try to take back the momentum. After getting down the field, UTEP set up a first down just six yards from the end zone. The Aggies were able to force a third down, but UTEP used a quarterback keeper to scramble in from a yard out and tie the game up 7-7.
On NM State’s first offensive drive of the game, they converted on a 3rd & 10 to get a new set of downs before Gibson broke off a 38-yard rush all the way to the UTEP 14-yard line. The opposition’s defense stood strong, but Aggie kicker Dylan Brown was able to come out and knock down a 32-yard field goal and put NM State ahead 10-7 before the first quarter ended.
Then UTEP used its first drive of the second frame to get back on the board. The Aggie defense held the Miners to a 4th & Goal, but a 23-yard field goal attempt was good and the score was knotted back up at 10-10.
After a punt for the Aggies, the next three drives of the game spanned eight plays and consisted of three turnovers. The first turnover saw UTEP stand just eight yards from the end zone before Roy Lopez came up with a big forced fumble that Billy Nipp recovered and a flag started NM State at its own 30-yard line.
Then after moving towards midfield with two completed passes, Josh Adkins was hit from the blindside for a strip sack that UTEP recovered at the NM State 47-yard line. The next possession for the Miners was short-lived, however, when Cedric Wilcots II got to the quarterback on the first play to force a fumble that was recovered by Malik Demby and returned 55-yards for an Aggie score. This put NM State ahead 17-10 at halftime.
To open the second half, the Aggies still could not get moving much offensively and they were forced to punt on the first drive. UTEP then took advantage of this opportunity and saw a 76-yard touchdown pass tie the game at 17 apiece.
The Miners then looked to take the lead on their next drive after the Aggies forced a fourth down. UTEP lined up for a 44-yard field goal attempt, but the kick was no good and the scored remained tied.
NM State quickly erased that tie on its next drive. On 3rd & 5, quarterback Josh Adkins found Royce Caldwell by the sidelines and he looked to be stopped before the first-down marker, but the running back broke a tackle and put on the burners taking off for a 53-yard score to give the Crimson & White a 24-17 advantage.
Looking to answer, UTEP used the longest drive of the game to bleed into a fourth quarter that started with a 2nd & 4 at the NM State 37-yard line. The Miners kept moving down the field before the Aggies brought up a fourth down and a 19-play, 64-yard drive that lasted 9:21 ended with a 33-yard field goal for UTEP to cut into the NM State lead that now stood at 24-20.
The Aggies then looked to orchestrate a long drive of their own to take time off the clock and put the Miners in a deeper hole. That is exactly what the team did, driving 75-yards on a series that took 4:51 and ended with a 22-yard field goal that gave NM State a 27-20 lead with 3:24 remaining in the game.
UTEP hoped to respond before the clock hit zero, but the visiting defense made that tough. The Aggies forced a 4th & 26 for the Miners at their own 27-yard line. This forced UTEP to look for a long pass completion but cornerback Austin Perkins was there to intercept the ball and down it at the NM State 45-yard line before the offense took a knee and ran out the clock to secure the 27-20 Battle of I-10 victory over rival UTEP.
New Mexico State now enters a much-needed bye week before getting set to play host to FBS-newcomer Liberty on Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. MT inside Aggie Memorial Stadium.
– Christian Gibson’s blocked punt at the end of the first drive of the game was the first blocked punt for NM State since B.J. Adolpho against Utah State on 10/10/09.
– Billy Nipp recorded the first fumble recovery of his Aggie career.
– Malik Demby got his first defensive touchdown on the 55-yard scoop and score.
– Christian Gibson rushed for a career-high 103 yards.
– The Aggies recorded eight sacks against UTEP. This was the first time the team had 5+ sacks since doing so against Idaho on 11/25/17.
– Roy Lopez set a new career-high in tackles for loss with 2.0 and recorded his first forced fumble with the Aggies.
– Austin Perkins made his first career interception to end UTEP’s final drive.
– This win over UTEP marks the eight time in program history that we got our first win of the season against UTEP.
– The victory is the first time NM State has beaten UTEP in back-to-back seasons since 2007-08.
– A win in the Sun Bowl for NM State was the team’s first win at UTEP since 9/20/08.