UTEP 17 – ACU 13: Miners Edge Out FCS Opponent in Second Home Win
The Miners (2-1) shook off early struggles and hung on to beat Abilene Christian (0-1) 17-13 in front of 6,059 fans at the Sun Bowl on Saturday.
After starting off 1-of-7 passing, redshirt sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison completed 14 of his final 18 passes and ended the game with 195 passing yards. Sophomore standout wideout Jacob Cowing had a career-best eight catches in this contest and finished with 110 receiving yards, his second 100-plus receiving game.
"The game was good. We came out early and didn't play as well as we needed to. The whole complexity of the game changed and again, we didn't use a whole lot of our gameplan," third-year head coach Dana Dimel said. "We have a ton of gameplan left to use over these first three weeks because we've just found a way to scratch and claw and get victories. It got to the point where our defense was playing so good that I didn't feel like it was necessary for us to take too many chances."
"Our defense played lights out football, absolutely lights out," he continued. "They didn't allow anything. They're going to do some things but it was a great defensive effort."
In the opening half, UTEP started the game with a forced turnover that went nowhere. Nickle corner Dy'vonne Inyang forced a fumble and cornerback Duron Lowe scooped it up at the UTEP 35 yard line. The Miners simply couldn't get anything going and failed to make anything happen offensively after the turnover.
The Wildcats' second drive was far more successful than their first. Iowa transfer quarterback Peyton Mansell had several pass completions, including a 28-yard pass that set up a 2-yard rushing touchdown by tailback Jermiah Dobbins to give them the 7-0 lead.
The Miners offense began the game the same way they started in the previous two weeks—slow and lethargic. Hardison opened the game 0-of-4 in the passing game. The run game was nonexistent while redshirt freshman Deion Hankins didn't see any action due to an injury he dealt with this past week in practice. UTEP had just 13 yards of total offense in the opening quarter.
Things shifted in the second quarter, where Abilene Christian simply couldn't find the end zone. They failed to convert a fourth down inside UTEP territory to start the second period, and UTEP was able to capitalize on a 10-play, 58-yard drive that ended in a 27-yard field goal by Gavin Baechle. Hardison hit a wide open Fields for a potential touchdown on the drive but the ball bounced out of his hands, resulting in the UTEP field goal.
Mansell had a deep bomb on the ensuing drive that put the Wildcats into UTEP territory. But a fumbled snap by Mansell and a recovery by UTEP cornerback Dennis Barnes gave the offense another chance to go-ahead before halftime. Hardison became more aggressive on the drive, throwing a deep ball to Cowing for a 51-yard reception. Senior running back Josh Fields punched it in for a five-yard touchdown on the next play.
Both teams traded punts before halftime hit, with the Miners leading 10-7.
As the defense helped to bail out the offense in the first half, they continued their successes in the second. The Wildcats drove twice into the red zone during the second half but only got field goals out of the two drives.
Abilene Christian's first drive of the second half ended up in a field goal after Mansell hit tight end Remington Lutz on a 35-yard pass play. The game was tied, 10-10, until the Miners put together a time-wasting 75-yard drive ending in a five-yard rushing touchdown by Ronald Awatt to give UTEP the go-ahead lead.
The defense held strong on the next drive when ACU drove into the red zone and the Miners stopped them, forcing a late field goal. The Miners were able to burn the rest of the clock and hang on for the win.
Defensively, senior linebacker Stephen Forester led the way with seven total tackles and a tackle for loss. Sophomore defensive end Praise Amaewhule had a monster finish with three tackles, two pass breakups, 1.5 tackles for losses and a sack. As a defense, UTEP had seven tackles for losses and had two turnovers in the game.
Redshirt freshman tailback Deion Hankins didn't see action in this game after dealing with injuries at practice this week. Senior back Josh Fields (17 carries, 75 yards, one touchdown) and junior Ronald Awatt (5 carries, 19 yards, one touchdown) led the way on the ground for UTEP.
The 2-1 start for the Miners is the best start since 2010 and the first time the program has won two or more games since 2016.
UTEP (2-1) will travel to Louisiana-Monroe (0-2) to try and snap an eight-game road losing streak next week. The Warhawks have lost in back-to-back games—first, a thumping against Army (37-7) and losing on Saturday to Texas State (38-17). ULM has former UTEP coach Scott Stoker on their staff as their interim defensive coordinator. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.