UTEP Football Suffers 7th Straight Bowl Loss in Heartbreaking Fashion to Fresno State
The longest bowl win drought in college football continues for the UTEP football team into 2022. Maybe the streak will end at 55 years since the Miners last won a bowl game.
But for now, the 31-24 loss to Fresno State (10-2) in the PUBG Mobile New Mexico stings a little more knowing that the Miners had multiple opportunities to win this game.
With under five minutes in the game, UTEP head coach Dana Dimel wanted it all. He called a timeout ahead of a third down play, which resulted in an incompletion. Dimel double-downed on his decision by calling another timeout ahead of fourth down. Quarterback Gavin Hardison hit wide receiver Tyrin Smith for a 24-yard passing play into Bulldog territory. Then, Hardison fumbled on the next play after scrambling for 10 yards.
Fresno State ran out the clock and took home the one-score victory.
“So proud of these guys and the effort they put together," said fourth-year head coach Dana Dimel. "We were so close to winning this game. So proud of the seniors. We played the best team in California and lost today."
The Bulldogs got on the board first off a quick five-play, 75 yard drive that was capped off by a two-yard rushing touchdown by running back Jordan Mims. On the next drive, the Miners responded with a touchdown of their own, which was set up by a 51-yard bomb from Hardison to Rey Flores. On fourth and goal, Hardison hit tight end Trent Thompson for a 1-yard touchdown.
Both teams traded field goals before the Miners found the end zone again off a Ronald Awatt 1-yard rushing touchdown. The Miners held a 17-9 lead late into the first half before things started to get rocky for the defense.
The Bulldogs managed to score 10 points in the final five minutes of the half, including a field goal drive that lasted 38-seconds before the end of the half. Fresno State took the 19-17 lead at the break.
Out of the half, both teams missed 52 yard field goals on back-to-back drives. It wasn't until the 3:50 mark of the third quarter when the Bulldogs started distancing themselves with another touchdown. Quarterback Jake Haener hit Mims for a 22-yard touchdown strike to cap off an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive.
Pulling some trickery on third and short, Miners change-of-pace quarterback Calvin Brownholtz faked a run and threw a pass to Thompson, who hauled it in for a 51-yard score. The play took social media by storm.
The Bulldogs put together a 13-play, 71-yard drive that ended in a field goal and wasted 5:06 off the clock to respond to the Miner touchdown. Fresno State led 29-24 and a bit of madness ensued for the Miners on the next drive. They were backed up due to a poor return on the special teams unit and a penalty. Hardison was strip-sacked in the back of the end zone and Elijah Klein fell on the ball, resulting in a safety.
UTEP was unable to respond, down seven points and Fresno State won the New Mexico Bowl. Running back Mims took home MVP honors, finishing with 164 rushing, 71 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Linebacker Levelle Bailey was a difference-maker for the Bulldogs too, as he finished with a sack, pass breakup, forced fumble (on Hardison to win the game) and a fumble recovery. Quarterback Haener, whose status was uncertain for the game, ended with 286 passing yards and a touchdown.
Hardison finished with 252 passing yards (12-of-27), with a touchdown, interception, fumble and two sacks. The running game finished with just 95 yards for the Miners. Seven different Miner receivers caught passes in the loss. Linebacker Tyrice Knight led the squad with 15 total tackles.
Now the Miners, who finished 7-6 on the year, will turn the page and look to 2022, in which Dimel believes most of the squad will be returning in.
“The next step [at UTEP] is to continue what we’re doing and majorly improve our program," Dimel said. "We got everyone coming back and a good recruiting class. I think today we did a great job showing everyone what we’re about.”
Photo gallery by Jorge Salgado