UTEP football fails to overcome turnovers, fall on road to Charlotte 38-28

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Courtesy of UTEP / Connor Putnam

UTEP senior wide receiver Justin Garret reels in a pass in pregame warmups versus Charlotte Oct 24.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

Despite solid defensive play, the UTEP Miners could not overcome costly turnovers and mistakes as they fell on the road to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers 39-28.  

For the game, the Miners had more first downs and total offensive yards but two interceptions, a  fumble and a costly offside penalty that negated an interception, were too much to overcome for an inconsistent UTEP team. 

“We were just mauling them in the first half; it’s a bloody shame,” coach Dana Dimel said. “Let’s call it like it isWe just kept trying to hand them the momentum of the game. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind (UTEP was better), you watch the game you can see that. We just made more mistakes than they did. We have to get those mistakes fixed. We have had two road wins get away from us. It’s ridiculous we lose that game.” 

On the first drive of the game, UTEP sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison made the Miners first mistake of the day, throwing an interception returned to his six-yard line. Charlotte took a total of two plays for running back Aaron McAllister to score from 7 yards out to give the 49ers the early 7-0 lead. 

Following the score, UTEP was able to drive 64 yards on 15 plays to tie the game, culminating with a 2-yard rushing touchdown from freshman Deion Hankins, his sixth of the season. On the drive, UTEP converted two third downs on pass interference penalties that kept the drive going and used up almost nine minutes of possession time. 

A short punt early in the second quarter from UTEP set up the 49ers in excellent field position at the Miner 45-yard line. Three plays later, UTEP sophomore defensive tackle Keenan Stewart forced a fumble that the Miners could not come away with, forcing another Charlotte punt. Creating turnovers have been an issue for the Miners all season, with only five in six games. 

After having a punt downed at the 2-yard line, the Miners started deep in its territory.  Hankins changed this situation quickly with a 30-yard run on first down that gave the Miners breathing room. Three plays later, facing a long third down and 14, Hardison came through with a 21-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Jacob Cowling for the first down. 

On third down and three, Hardison came up big again on a 13-yard completion to senior wide receiver Justin Garret for 13 yards as the Miners continued to drive into Charlotte territory. Two plays later, it became the Ronald Awatt show as the junior running back ran the ball five consecutive times as he scored a 4-yard touchdown to give UTEP a shortlived 14-7 lead. This finished off a 13 play 98-yard drive for UTEP. 

Charlotte responded right away, going 79 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown to tie the game once again. On a critical 3rd down and 11 play, a key interception from senior Justin prince was negated by a Miner offside penalty that kept the scoring drive alive for the 49ers. 

At the half, UTEP was dominating in yardage but  tied on the scoreboard 14-14. 

The Miner defense started off controlling the Charlotte offense forcing a punt of the very first drive of the second half. Unfortunately, five plays later, with UTEP moving the ball comfortably, Hardison threw his second interception of the game trying to hit Cowing deep in Charlotte territory. 

Once again, the UTEP defense stepped up and forced a punt with UTEP taking over at its 2-yard line.  On the first play of the drive, Hankins busted a big 15-yard run negated by his inability to hold on to the ball resulting in another turnover for UTEP in its territory. 

Charlotte once again took advantage of Miner mistakes and scored on a Chris Reynold 10-yard pass to Cameron Dollar to give the 49ers the lead once again 21-14. Dollar was a one-man wrecking crew last season versus UTEP with 157 yards receiving had a much lower key 27 yards today but was able to secure the score for Charlotte. 

The 49ers started the fourth quarter with a 32-yard field goal to expand its lead to 24-14 with 11 minutes left in the game. 

UTEP decided to go for it on a fourth down and six on the following drive extending their drive as the Miners moved into Charlotte territory.  On a critical third down and 4-yards to go, Awatt was stuffed for a loss that set up another key fourthdown conversion attempt for the Miners. With 5-yards to go for a first down, Hardison was sacked on a pass play that took way too long to develop. 

Taking over at midfield with eight minutes left in the game, Charlotte proceeded to move the ball at will on a tired UTEP defense as it scored on a Micaceous Elder 13-yard run. On this play, the Miners let Elder escape from deep his backfield as he ran into the endzone untouched to give Charlotte a 31-14 lead. 

With four and a half minutes remaining in the game Hardison lead the Miners downfield, making two critical thirddown conversions before hitting Garret for an 8- yard touchdown to make the score 31-21 with three minutes remaining. The ensuing onside kick failed to get the ball back for the Miners as Charlotte took over at UTEP36-yard line. 

Charlotte then followed up on its very first play from scrimmage with a 36-yard touchdown by McAllister, his second of the day against a wore down UTEP defense. 

With the game out of reach and Charlotte playing prevent defense, Hardison and Garret connected on four completions that culminated in a perfectly thrown 11-yard touchdown pass to reduce the score to a 10-point game with a minute left in the game. A failed onside attempt by UTEP would put the game on ice for Charlotte as the 49ers won 38-28 in the hard-fought game. 

It was a game of two halves. One in which UTEP controlled the game and overcame mistakes in the first half set up by an improved defense but in the second half the mistakes continued as the defense was unable to overcome the offensive deficiencies to keep UTEP in the game. 

UTEP established a highly effective running game at times and ended the game with 170 yards on the ground. Hankins led the Miners with 120 yards on the ground but had a crucial turnover contributing to the Miner loss. Hankins made multiple key plays and now has 419 yards on the ground for the Miners for the season. The Miners need to find a way to get the backs more involved in the passing game to find a more efficient offense. 

Hardison’s passing game was again inconsistent, completing 19 of 35 passes for 204 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Garret led the team in receiving with nine catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. This was the second 100 yard receiving game of Garrets season and third of his career. Cowing had five receptions for 75 yards as he continues to lead the Miners in receiving for the season with 515 yards on 34 catches. 

Defensively the Miners were very impressive at times but were continually put in lousy field position due to offensive errors. Senior linebacker Steven Forester lead the team in tackles with nine total and 2.5 for loss. Sophomore defensive tackle Kennan Stewart followed up his impressive performance last week with another standout effort with 5 tackles, 3 for loss and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, a key offside penalty negated a turnover for the Miners. 

“It was over, it was over, (the 49ers) are not a come-from-behind offense and they were struggling to move the football on us,” Dimel said. “We dominate the first half, they weren’t even trying to score at the end of the half, they’re trying not to give the ball back to us. We get the pick and we’re lined up offsides.” 

For Charlotte, Reynolds was unable to duplicate his previous seasons performance against UTEP as he was stopped on the ground and controlled in the air. Fortunately for the 49ers, he did enough to win and did not allow himself to be forced into any critical errors.  Much like last season the game came down to which team made the mistakes and once again, the Miners made the key errors. 

Going forward, the Miners need to cut down on costly mistakes, create turnovers and have a more efficient offense but this is a vastly improved Miner team from last season. Over and over the Miners refuse to use the backs or tight ends in the offense only to go for lower percentage passes that have kill drives. It is challenging to win, completing only 50percent of passes while opponents are completing over 62%. 

The Miners (3-3) return home next week against North Texas(2-3) at noon Oct. 31 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Last season the Miners lost to North Texas on the road 52-26. 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]