Miners take down Aggies in rivalry game; season opener
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The Battle of I-10 rivalry between UTEP and New Mexico State usually intensifies and delivers a close game; and, after last year’s 50-47 thrilling overtime victory by the orange and blue, this year was anticipated to be another thriller.
That was not the case for the Miners’ season opener against the Aggies as UTEP dominated NMSU 38-22 in front of a filled Sun Bowl stadium with beaming fans.
The score did not give justice to the game that was predominately one-sided by the Miners, apart from a few UTEP mishaps.
Igniting the fuse for the offense was standout running back Aaron Jones. On his first touch of the game, Jones picked up a 10-yard gain after a small bubble screen turned into a first down; and, Jones used his notorious stiff arm to achieve the yardage.
The crowd boomed for his return with the Miners, and they loved each play he made after.
It was only uphill from then on for Jones. Jones ended the day with 31 carries for 249 yards, which is a career best for him. He accounted for percent of the team’s total rushing yards and contributed with a 37-yard touchdown.
After the game, Jones became the nation’s leading rusher, surpassing Georgia’s Nick Chubb’s 222-yard day.
Also offensively, quarterback Zack Greenlee made his UTEP debut as the team’s starter. To start the game Greenlee did not throw much, as the Miners relied on the run game. But, as the game progressed, they started to open up the field through the air.
Greenlee connected with Cole Freytag for a 46-yard touchdown, which was the longest passing touchdown of the game. Then, after a near four-minute drive before the first half ended that featured two catches by Jaquan White, Greenlee hit Warren Redix in the end zone for a three-yard touchdown pass.
He finished the night completing 15 of 27 passes for 229 yards, and tallied three touchdown passes.
Freytag led the Miners’ receiving core with four catches for 95 yards. The Greenlee-Freytag connection seemed solid for their season opener.
The Aggies lost the lead early as they were outscored 24-3 from the 11:11-minute mark in the second quarter, to the 1:12-minute of the third quarter. They could not find an answer to stop Jones’ run game; and, although they made up for running back Larry Rose III, who could not play due to an injury, they could not convert on third down conversions or find definite rhythm on drives. The Miners’ defense stopped the Aggies five out of 11 times on third down.
Leading the defense was linebacker Alvin Jones, who totaled with 12 tackles and a tackle for loss. Following Alvin, Devin Cockrell (6), Nick Usher (7), and Kalon Beverly (5) all contributed with tackles of their own.
Throughout their offensive pursuit, the Miners mixed up different players into the assortment. They utilized quarterback Kavika Johnson as both an alternate gunslinger and as a receiver. Johnson, who confused the defense by his erratic presence, brought two catches for 26 yards, and rushed for 15 yards.
Also, subbing in for Aaron at the tailback position, true freshman Quadraiz Wadley made his Miners debut and added 45 rushing yards to the rushing core. Despite a fumble loss at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Wadley showed promising start for the future of the squad.
Adrian Broaddus may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org