Leading 21-7 at the half over the Charlotte 49ers, the UTEP Miners were shutout in the second half allowing 21 unanswered points to its conference rival in a 28-21 loss. This loss was the eighth consecutive loss for the Miners.
It was a tale of two halves for the Miners, one where the team dominated the game and the other where it could not put any points up while the defense could not stop the 49ers.
“We just didn’t make the same plays that we were making in the first half,” Coach Dana Dimel said. “Kids are still just learning how to win.”
On the first possession of the game, the Miners set the tone unexpectedly coming out and passing on its first two plays en route to scoring a touchdown on a 10-play drive that culminated with senior quarterback Kai Locksley running the ball in from the 19-yard line. Locksley was 4 for 4 passing on this drive as the Miners took a 7-0 lead early.
Charlotte on its first drive was in Miner territory when senior defensive back Michael Lewis made a huge interception on a tipped pass. On the first play of the drive, Locksley threw a bullet to freshman receiver Jacob Cowing for a 38-yard gain. Cowling would go on to have a career-best day, setting a UTEP freshman record with 145 yards and receiving on 6 catches. The Miners would end up scoring on a Locksley touchdown pass to junior receiver Justin Garret of 15 yards, giving them a 14-0 lead.
Top recruit and freshman running back Deion Hankins made his UTEP debut with a 5-yard run on the second possession of the game. Fans were quite excited to see the Parkland graduate take the field exhibiting the loudest cheers of the season for the home team. Hankins followed up with a 14-yard gain on the same series and ended the game with six carries for 22 yards. Hankins would only get a single carry in the second half of the game.
With 42 seconds left in the first half, senior halfback Treyvon Hughes would take a wildcat snap for a 3-yard touchdown run to take a 21-7 lead at halftime. The 14-point halftime lead was UTEP’s largest since last year’s 27-3 lead over Rice in the one Miner victory of last season.
The second half started out promising, with the Miners able to hold the 49ers to a field goal on their first possession. Unfortunately, the Miners started the opening drive with a holding penalty on the way to a three and out possession.
In a drive that put Charlotte back in the game, the 49ers went on a 12 play 69-yard output resulting in a 3-yard rushing touchdown. The Miners were making a stand with the 49ers at the 33-yard line of UTEP with Charlotte facing third down and 20 yards to go. With no pressure on the Charlotte quarterback a 30-yard reception by 49er wide receiver Cameron Dollar generated a back-breaking first down that set up the touchdown. A two-point conversion made it a 21-18 game.
UTEP went three and out on its next possession, while Charlotte added a field goal to make the score a tie at 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Miners would now embark on the most impactful drive of the game. Locksley came up big with crucial plays, including a 38-yard run to take the Miners to the 13-yard line of the 49ers.
On the biggest play of the current season, the Miners faced fourth down with one yard to go at the Charlotte 4-yard line. Dimel called a time out and sent in his wildcat package with Hughes at QB. The 49ers, with the extra time to prepare, stuffed the running play for a one-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
The most critical play of the season and UTEP’s most dangerous weapon was not even on the field. The advantage with the wildcat is that you have an extra blocker for your running back as well as an unbalanced line but with that advantage comes a massive flaw in that it limits any ability to throw the ball.
“They had no answer to that play, we ran it, and every time it was efficient (for game) … we just didn’t execute,” Dimel said. “If I had to do it all over again, I would make that call 100 percent of the time.”
Following this stop, the 49ers would then take the ball 95 yards to take the lead on the back of quarterback Chris Reynolds who shredded the Miner defense running and passing all day long. Reynolds finished 24 of 35, giving for 354 yards to go along with his 94 yards on the ground. Accounting for all but 41 yards of offense for the 49ers, Reynolds was a thorn in UTEP’s side all game .
Now behind 28-21, the Miner defense made their first stop of the second half and gave the team a chance to get back into the game. A shanked punt by Charlotte set the Miners up with excellent field position. The Locksley- Cowing Combo took the Miners into the Charlotte RedZone with a little over a minute remaining. Faced with an intense pass rush from Charlotte, Locksley, with a player draped on his arm, threw an interception that sealed the Miners’ fate in the loss.
Falling to 1-8 and winless in the conference, the Miners go on the road to play at Alabama Birmingham 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16.
Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected].