UTEP football dominates Bulldogs defensively, come up short on road 21-17

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Courtesy of UTEP / Tom Morris

UTEP sophomore defensive end Praise Amaewhule wraps up Bulldog quarterback Luke Anthony for a sack versus Louisiana Tech Oct 10.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

The UTEP Miners (3-2) took the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (3-1) to the brink of defeat on the strength of sophomore defensive end Praise Amaewhule and a tremendous overall defensive effort with a 21-17 setback on the road. 

I am proud of our football team,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said. “ There is no doubt we were the most talented football team tonight. 

Last season UTEP was dominated by Louisiana Tech at home 42-21. 

Amaewhule was a force on the field all night as he set a UTEP single-game record for sacks with 3.5 and had four passes defended. Frequently in the backfield, Amaewhule was a disruptive force that never let the Louisiana Tech offense get into any kind of rhythm. After five games, Amaewhule now leads the NCAA in sacks with six total. 

Really proud of the way he played,” said Dimel. “He was disruptive in so many different ways. He has raised his game to a dominant force in the conference. 

On the first possession of the game, the Bulldogs drove down the field on a 10 play 75-yard drive that resulted in a 15-yard Israel Tucker run that gave La Tech the early 7-0 lead. 

Before the end of the first quarter, the Miners were able to strike back on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison to senior Devaughn Cooper who made a spectacular catch to tie the score seven apiece. 

After forcing a punt on the Bulldogs next drive, the Miners sat poised to force another punt when a pass interference call set scoring run by Henderson, who scored on two missed tackles from the UTEP defense to take the lead 14-7. 

With a minute and 36 seconds left in the first half, the Miners took over on its 25-yard line trailing only by a touchdown. A pass from Hardison to sophomore Jacob Cowing had the Miners driving to the Tech 44-yard line with 45 seconds left on the clock. Junior tackle Zuri Henry was then called for holding on a play that saw Hardison briefly leaving the game. Choosing to run out the clock, the Miners decided to go into the half down by a touchdown. 

With the first drive of the second half resulting in only 2 yards gained, the Miners were forced to punt but the Miner defense once again rose to the occasion and got the Miners the ball back on the Bulldog side of the field.  

On a 19-yard pass to Cowing, the Miners moved inside the Tech twenty-yard line. The drive stalled at the Bulldog 12-yard line as junior Gavin Baechle hit a 29-yard field goal to shrink the Louisiana tech lead to four points with nine minutes left in the third quarter. 

 Both teams failed to move the ball on its next possessions, with both teams being forced to punt. 

Late in the third quarter, Tech started a 13 play 60-yard drive that culminated with  Tucker’s second touchdown of the night with a one-yard dive with 11 minutes left in the game to give the Bulldogs an 11-point lead. With limited success on offense, the Miners were now in quite a hole. 

UTEP senior defensive back  Duron Lowe quickly changed the narrative with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. This was Lowe’s second touchdown of that distance of his career, previously having one last season versus North Texas. Now with just over 11 minutes left in the game, the Miners trailed by only four points. 

The Miner defense once again stepped up and forced a punt from the Bulldogs on three plays and out. Now taking over on its own 36-yard line with just over 10 minutes left in the game, the Miners were in a position to have a game-winning drive but once again could not get any offense going. 

Once again forcing a punt, the UTEP defense shut down the Bulldogs forcing a punt with seven minutes left in the game giving the Miner offense the ball at the Tech 49-yard line.  On first down, the Miners’ sophomore guard Elijah Klein moved the UTEP offense backward with a personal foul that set the Miners up with a first down and 25 yards to go. Two plays later, Hardison underthrew a well-covered Cowing for the first turnover of the game. 

Louisiana Tech took over at its own 26-yard line with about six minutes left in the game. UTEP’s defense once again shut down the Bulldogs offense forcing a punt. Unfortunately, the Miners picked up another significant penalty with a roughing the kicker penalty that extended the Bulldogs’ drive. This penalty would be the nail in the coffin for the Miners. After a couple of first downs, the Miner defense clamped down, forcing a punt as the Bulldogs entered UTEP territory just past midfield, giving the Miners one last chance with about 30 seconds left in the game. 

The game ended with a pass to Cowing that had almost no chance to score for the Miners as the team fell to Louisiana Tech by a final score of 21-17. Cowing ended the night with seven receptions for 63 yards. 

Hardison UTEP’s starting quarterback finished completing 18 of 38 passes for 202 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Having his moments, Hardison was constantly in third and long due to penalties. 

For the night, the Miners outgained the Bulldogs 266 yards to 210. Both teams were very inconsistent offensively with less than 5 yards per play on the night. Rushing wise, it was a tough night for two teams that have had success this year running the ball with both teams averaging 2.2 yards per carry. 

Penalties were a major difference in the game, with the Miners giving back 128 yards on 12 penalties for the game. Louisiana Tech had minimal mistakes penalty wise with only thee for the night. 

We got out of rhythm with all the penalties,” said Dimel. “ It takes you out of all the things you like to do offensively.” 

While Louisiana Tech was a team that was missing 10 defensive starters from last season’s 10-win team, the Miners defense was never able to take advantage of the inexperience of its opponent.   

Defensively, this was the best game of Dimel’s tenure with standout performances from Amaewhule, sophomore defensive tackle Keenan Stewart and senior linebacker Stephen Forester. Stewart has 12 tackles  and Forester had 10 for the Miner defense. 

“A shame that those kids had to walk off the field with a loss, “ said Dimel. “This was a dominating performance from the defense. The defense did enough to win.” 

UTEP returns home to face Southern Mississippi 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Sun Bowl in El Paso. 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]