Miners fall in Gildan New Mexico Bowl

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Miners fall in Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Senior running back Nathan Jeffery attempts to break a run to the outside.

Senior running back Nathan Jeffery attempts to break a run to the outside.

Senior running back Nathan Jeffery attempts to break a run to the outside.

Senior running back Nathan Jeffery attempts to break a run to the outside.

Javier Cortez, Contributor

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —Playing in their first bowl game in 10 years, the UTEP Miners football team displayed one of their worst offensive performances of the season against Utah State, losing to the Aggies 21-6 at the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in front of 28,275 fans.

Coming into the game the Miners were 10-point underdogs, making them the second biggest underdog in the 38 bowl games of the 2014-15 bowl season. Despite the Miners futility offensively, they proved their worth against the Aggies.

After failed first drives by both teams, the Miners struck first—midway through the first quarter quarterback Jameill Showers scrambled out of the pocket and found wide receiver Ian Hamilton down field for a 53-yard completion. The pass play was the biggest play all day for the Miners, and would lead to a 32-yard field goal by Jay Mattox.

It wouldn’t take Utah State long to respond. The Aggies put together their quickest scoring drive of the game, the drive was three plays and capped off by a 48-yard run by Aggie quarterback Kent Myers, who went on to win offensive MVP for Utah State.

Neither team would score in the second quarter as each team squandered opportunities to score, the second quarter was essentially a game of hot potato. Utah State started the second quarter with a 78-yard punt return, which looked like it would lead to an easy touchdown, but a block in the back sent the big play in reverse.

Later in the quarter the Aggies were driving again, before cornerback Adrian Payne intercepted a pass. UTEP would get the ball with good field position but could not capitalize. The Miner defense was not done though, with four minutes left in the second quarter cornerback Adrian James came up with a sack-fumble that put the Miners in Aggie territory.

The Miners were primed to score but a costly red zone penalty squandered the Miners chances, as they would have to settle for a field goal attempt. With the Miners luck all game though, the field goal was botched off a bad snap. Things would only get worse, the next play Utah State picked up 61-yards on a run play, and with less than a minute to go in the quarter the Aggies were set up for an easy field goal. But Utah State could not convert, missing the 28-yard field goal wide left, and after a wacky second quarter full of penalties, turnovers, and missed opportunities the Miners would go into halftime only down by four.

Despite only being down by a slim margin, the Miners could not find any success in the second half offensively. Jameill Showers never found a rhythm and he didn’t get much help in the run game, the Miners were never able to sustain a substantial drive, which ultimately led to their second half demises.

“I think we shot ourselves in the foot because we didn’t execute,” Showers said. “We just didn’t play very well on offense.”

The one bright spot for the Miners was their defense, what was once their Achilles heel last season was their near savior in today’s game. Whenever the offense was stall, the defense would come up with stops or make plays to neutralize the Aggie attack.

Although the Aggies would score two more times in the second half, the Miner defense played with poise and great energy, which head coach Sean Kugler was most proud off.

“I thought the defense has competed hard all year,” Kugler said. “The kids played their hearts out, I thought the defense was out there hitting and competing the entire game.”

The 15-point loss and an abysmal showing from the offense was disappointing for the Miners, but all in all the 2014 season was a success. After a tumultuous 2013 season where the Miners only won two games and registered one of the worst defenses in the nation, coach Kugler turned the Miners around despite the lack of belief in the team in the preseason.

“I feel we laid the foundation,” Kugler said. “I complement the seniors for laying that foundation from a work ethic standpoint, from an accountability standpoint, and now it’s going to be the underclassmen’s job to carry on that.”

The Miners now finish the season with a 7-6 record, with a five game improvement from last season. The Miners 2014 bowl bid was only their 16th bowl bid in program history. The season ended in a loss for the Miners, but it was an overall success for a program on the rise.

 

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

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