Northern Arizona Trumps UTEP in Season Opener
Dial your calendar 644 back in time and you'll find the last UTEP won a football game.
Let that sink in.
Throughout Saturday night, the Dana Dimel era was unveiled as the Miners wanted to put their winless 2017 season behind them to move forward once and for all through a new era of UTEP football.
In front of 17,271 fans, Northern Arizona came into the Sun Bowl and stormed through the Miners with a 30-10 win.
Dimel said this after the game:
“I thought, most importantly, the turnovers were a big issue for us early in the game. They set the tone a little bit, the two turnovers, one on the first drive and the fumble. Both of those kind of set the momentum for the game as it went forward. I thought overall, some of the first-game mechanics have got to get better. It was the first time all of us were together. There are some things we’ve got to improve on. We’ve got to minimize our penalties. We had 10 penalties for the game. To me, that definitely something we’ve got to work on and reduce those. And we had three turnovers. To me, as you start working for progress with the football team it’s all about the unforced errors.”
Senior Ryan Metz opened up as the starting quarterback for the Miners, but struggled early on. His first pass of the 2018 season was a costly interception, which set up a NAU 49-yard touchdown drive in the first four minutes of the game.
On the second drive, Metz connected with fullback Winston Dimel, who fumbled the ball and created the second turnover for the Miners. The Lumberjacks turned around and developed a seven-play drive, resulting in a 26-yard field goal.
JUCO transfer Kai Locksley entered the game in the third offensive series for the Miners, but it took a couple drives for him to get fully adjusted to the Division I speed. After each team traded off punts, the Lumberjacks caught on fire in the second quarter when quarterback Case Cookus connected with Emmanuel Butler for an 84-yard touchdown pass-and-catch, making the score 17-0 in favor of NAU.
Locksley and the offense responded well with a four-play, 75-yard drive ending in a 32-yard lateral run by Quadriaz Wadley for the Miners' first touchdown of the night. As time was expiring in the first half, the Miners exited the second quarter with a 24-yard field goal by Jason Filley.
The game was in reach, as the Miners trailed just 17-10 at the half.
But right out of the gates in the third quarter, NAU developed an 11-play, 75-yard drive ending in a Cookus to Butler connection for a touchdown, making it 23-10.
Things were still in reach, as Kalon Beverly of the Miners intercepted Cookus' pass and gave the Miners manageable field position to inch at a comeback. But on the very next drive, Locksley's pass was intercepted and NAU shut the Miners' hopes at a comeback with an eight-yard touchdown run by Joe Logan to cap the game off at 30-10.
Northern Arizona out-gained the Miners 318-229 in total offense on Saturday. Cookus, who had an outstanding night, finished with 211 yards and two touchdowns. Butler ended the game with six receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns as well.
Locksley's debut ended with 120 yards through the air (13-for-26) and 77 yards on the ground. Linebacker AJ Hotchkins led the Miners' defense with 13 total tackles.
“Statistically, I thought overall our defense played a good football game,” Dimel said. “They gave up the momentum, the play of the game was the touchdown to go to 17 points. We were in good coverage position, just an unfortunate play for us as a football team that got them to 17 and then the third down conversion at the start of the third quarter was a big play in the ballgame as well. But besides those plays, overall the defense played well enough to win. We knew coming in that these guys had a good offensive football team. They did enough things to help us win a football game today.
“Offensively, we didn’t run the ball as well as I’d like to see us run the ball. I think we can do a better job of being more consistent in our run game. Again, we’re meshing our offensive line together.”
Next week the Miners will go on the road to take on Mountain West affiliate UNLV in part of their non-conference schedule.
“The main thing I drew from [Saturday’s game], we didn’t play near as well as I would like us to play. That goes without saying,” Dimel said. “But I liked the way the kids fought. I’m pleased with that part of it. I told them in the locker room, ‘This isn’t going to define us. This is just the beginning.’ And now you’re going to be measured on how much you improve week to week.”