Miners ready for home opener against Incarnate Word

Adrian Broaddus, Staff Reporter

Two opening losses to teams from the power five conferences, Aaron Jones sidelined for the season, squeezing past rivals New Mexico State 50-47 in overtime – these are the story-lines the Miners bring to the forefront entering the fourth week of college football.

UTEP football will look to break .500 Saturday, Sept. 26, at their first home game of the season against the Incarnate Word Cardinals at Sun Bowl Stadium.

Despite being the only Football Bowl Subdivision team who has not had a home game, this will be the ninth time since 1983 that the Miners have had their season opener against a Football Championship Subdivision team. UTEP has a 7-1 record when facing an FCS team and a 57-34-4 all-time record in home openers. The last time UTEP faced an FCS school was in 2011, when they defeated Stony Brook 31-24 in overtime.

In the 50-47 victory over the NMSU Aggies, the Miners scored 50 points for the first time since 2009, and for the first time under head coach Sean Kugler. The squad is 9-0 since 1999 when scoring 50 points or more. However, the Miners stole the win without running back Aaron Jones and without starting quarterback Mack Leftwich, who left the game in the third quarter with a severe concussion.

Throughout the game, the Miners overcame 14-point deficits three times, 23-9, 30-16 and 44-30, in the matchup to beat the Aggies. When Leftwich went out of the game, hometown Andress high school graduate Ryan Metz took his spot.

Metz, with four minutes in the game, trailing 44-30, conducted two touchdown drives to tie the game and force it into overtime. Coach Kugler called the comeback one of his proudest moments in his coaching tenure as the headman in El Paso.

“The team kept fighting and kept responding, even when they were down 14–kind of in tough situations,” Kugler said. “That was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of as a coach; maybe one of the proudest moments I’ve had about my team because of their resiliency in the game.”

On the visiting side, the 2-1 Division II team, based in San Antonio, is coming off a 20-10 win over Nicholls. Led by head coach Larry Kennan, an ex-NFL quarterback coach for the Los Angeles Raiders.

Incarnate Word brings forth a strong defensive player in outside linebacker Myke Tavarres. A transfer from the University of Arkansas, Tavarres leads the Southland Conference with 8.3 tackles per game and 6.0 tackles for loss. In addition to being a key component of the defense, Tavarres is also the starting kick returner for the Cardinals.

Although Jones will be sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Miners will continue on the ground with Darrin Laufasa and LaQuintus Dowell. Laufasa scored on a 66-yard run against the Aggies and ended the night with 76 yards.

Adding diversity to the receiving core, the Miners were able complete passes to receivers JaQuan White, Autrey Golden, Tyler Batson, Cole Freytag and to tight ends Hayden Plinke and Cedrick Lang. Lang caught a six-yard pass from Metz to win the game in overtime.

With the even distribution on offense, Kugler claims that his offense will be more balanced against the Cardinals on Saturday and throughout the rest of the season.

“We talked about being a running back, not by committee, but running back by team,” Kugler said. “I think (against NMSU) we accomplished that.”

For special teams, the Miners continue to improve, according to coach Kugler. Due to his 64-yard punt return for a touchdown in the NMSU game, JaQuan White was honored as Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Week. Junior Jay Mattox is 9-9 in PATs and 4-4 in field goals. Mattox is currently on an 11-consectuive field goal streak, which dates back to Nov. 8, 2014, against Western Kentucky.

On the defensive end, Alvin Jones is coming off his career-high performance against the Aggies. In the overtime victory, Jones had a career-high five tackles for losses, a career-best 11 tackles and recorded a safety for the Miners. As of the third week, Jones leads the defense with 18 tackles, with eight solo tackles.

Going into the game Saturday, the Miners will start Metz at quarterback, and coach Kugler was more than pleased with his ability to perform at the position.

“I can’t say enough about Ryan Metz,” Kugler said. “I always knew when he got his opportunity he was going to shine. What a gutsy performance by him (against NMSU).”

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]