UTEP 24 – SFA 14: Miners Push Past Lumberjacks in Season Opener
After trailing 14-3, the Miners scored three unanswered touchdowns to upend Stephen F. Austin 24-14 for their season opener on Saturday in front of 6,047 socially-distanced fans at the Sun Bowl.
Offensively, the Miners found their mark through the air with a new starter in redshirt sophomore Gavin Hardison (17-of-28 for 212 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception). His star receiver came in sophomore Jacob Cowing, who finished with seven catches for 116 yards.
But it was the hometown tailback Deion Hankins that stole the show. The Parkland High School graduate and El Paso's all-time leading rusher in the high school ranks carried the ball 17 times for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Defensively, UTEP finished with a pair of turnovers—first, a forced fumble by nickel corner Dy'Vonne Inyang and then, a game-saving interception by cornerback Duron Lowe.
Stephen F. Austin stormed out of the gate with their experienced senior quarterback Trae Self, as they sparked a quick six-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a 17-yard touchdown pass to receiver Lawton Rikel.
Two drives later, the Miners responded with a 22-yard field goal by kicker Gavin Baechle. However, they struggled to move the ball against SFA early on.
To close out the first and start the second quarter, SFA found themselves rolling offensively. Self marched his team downfield with a balanced attack and running back Da'leon Ward took a one-yard carry for a score. The Lumberjacks put together a long 12-play, 84-yard drive that lasted 6:17, ending in a touchdown.
Then, the Miners marched back with back-to-back touchdowns to close out the first half. They put together a time-wasting 16-play, 83-yard drive lasting nearly 10 minutes. Hardison capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Justin Garrett.
On the ensuing drive defensively, UTEP came up with their first forced turnover of the season when Inyang stripped an SFA receiver and safety Justin Prince scooped up the fumble and returning it inside the Lumberjacks 10-yard line.
Hankins took a 10-yard carry for a touchdown to give UTEP the go-ahead 17-14 lead at the half. UTEP led SFA 158-147 in total offense, with 112 passing and 46 rushing yards.
In the third quarter, UTEP took over in the time of possession. Their first two drives in the second half combined for nearly 12 minutes off the clock, even though both drives didn't end how they wanted. The Miners' first drive in the second half resulted in a turnover on downs after Hardison fumbled a snap on 4th and short. A drive later, the redshirt sophomore quarterback was picked off by a Stephen F. Austin defender.
The Lumberjacks put together a stable drive of their own late in the third quarter, featuring a successful 4th down conversion and a 31-yard run by tailback Josh McGowen on 3rd and short. SFA was looking to either tie the game or take the lead, down 17-14, and driving inside UTEP territory.
Cornerback Duron Lowe came up in potentially game-saving fashion for the Miners when he intercepted Self's pass in the back of the end zone. This set up a nine-play, 80-yard drive, which featured a Hankins 41-yard haul, and ended with Hankins getting his second touchdown of the night from six yards out.
With the win, the Miners snap an 11-game losing streak dating back to last year. They out-gained SFA 364-230 in total offense, forced a pair of turnovers while giving up a pair of their own. UTEP scored four of the six times they went to the red zone and finished 8-of-13 on third-down conversions.
Next up, the Miners will travel to Austin and play the Longhorns in what should be an uphill battle. After, they return to the Sun Bowl to host Abilene Christian on Saturday, Sept. 19.