Depleted UTEP football comes up short at North Texas

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Courtesy of UTEP

UTEP sophomore quarterback Calvin Brownholtz warms up before his first career start versus North Texas Dec. 12,.

Michael Cuviello, sports editor

Missing its starting quarterback and four members of its secondary, the UTEP Miners gave the North Texas Mean Green it could handle Friday evening, battling to a 45-43 loss. The game initially scheduled for earlier in the season was moved to Denton due to COVID-19 concerns within the El Paso region. 

Starting sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison who had started every game this season for the Miners, was unable to play due to COVID-19 contract tracing. Stepping into the starting role was sophomore quarterback Calvin Brownholtz who had thrown a total of 11 passes in his Miner career to this point. 

Missing from the starting lineup were four of the five starting defensive backs for the Miners due to them entering the transfer portal last week and forgoing the rest of the 2020 season. The only remaining starter from the secondary was junior Justin Prince. 

Starting the game out well, the Miner defense forced a fumble in North Texas territory with 11 minutes left in the first quarter. On a third and 19, Brownholtz scrambled 29 yards for his first touchdown as a Miner to give UTEP a 7-0 lead. 

Following this drive, the Miner defense once again shut down the Green Wave offense and forced a punt. After a UTEP offensive pass interference penalty, Brownholtz threw his first of four interceptions on the day. On the very next play, North Texas quarterback Austin Aune hit Deonte Simpson for a 46-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven apiece. 

On the next possession, Brownholtz had another long 29-yard run, which set up a two-yard dive for a score from freshman running back Deion Hankins to give the Miners back the lead at 14-7. Unfortunately, for the second drive in a row, it took North Texas only one play to score as Aune hit Jaelon Darden for a 75-yard touchdown to once again tie the score early in the second quarter. 

Both teams struggled to move the ball on the next couple of drives, North Texas then drove for a field goal to take a 17-14 lead with five minutes left in the first half. Following the score, Brownholtz threw his second interception at his own 40-yard line. 

The Miner defense stepped up and shut down the Green Wave, forcing a punt that gave the Miners control of the ball with two minutes left in the first half. Taking over at the Miner 33, UTEP relied on its running game and came away with a 7-yard touchdown from Hankins to give the team the lead going into halftime. 

As the second half started, the Miners defense came up big on the first drive getting the ball back into the offenses’ hands. At the 10-minute mark of the third quarter, Brownholtz once again found a pass ending up in the hands of a North Texas player. North Texas took over at midfield and a minute later, Aune threw another long touchdown pass to Darden of 32 yards giving North Texas a 24-21 lead. 

Brownholtz once again found the wrong jersey on a deep interception on the next drive, culminating in 12 play 81-yard touchdown drive on an Aune rushing score to give the Green Wave a 10-point lead. Just before the end of the quarter, Brownholtz had another long run of 22 yards to push the ball in Green Wave territory as the quarter ended.  

To start the fourth quarter, Brownholtz hit Cowing for a 28-yard touchdown to bring the Miners within a field goal with 14 minutes left in the game. North Texas answered quickly with another Aune touchdown that was set up by a pass interference call on senior quarterback Josh Caldwell. The Mean Green was now up 38-28. 

After going three and out after a penalty, the Miners gave the ball back to North Texas. The Green Wave capitalized quickly with Aune and Darden’s third touchdown connection, this time for 50 yards. UTEP now trailed with nine minutes left in the game 45-28. 

Brownholtz and the Miner offense then started to play with more confidence going 7yards in five plays for a sophomore Jacob Cowing touchdown. Junior Trent Thompson then caught a two-point conversion pass from Brownholtz that made the score 45-36 with six minutes and 32 seconds left in the game. 

North Texas took the next drive to the Miner 29-yard line but came up short on a thirddown and 2 yards to go on a tackle for loss by Jadrian Taylor and J Wilson Jr. The Green Wave attempted and missed a 48-yard field goal that gave the Miners the ball back at its own 31-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the game. 

On his most efficient drive of the day, Brownholtz carried his team to a touchdown on six plays that he finished with a five-yard touchdown run. Now with 26 seconds left in the game, the Miners had no choice but to try an onside kick.  The Miners could not convert, and the game ended with a narrow 45-43 loss to North Texas. 

To come within a field goal of a victory after four interceptions was in itself a moral victory for the Miners. Unfortunately, those types of victories do not appear in the win column. 

“Really proud of the effort tonight,” head coach Dana Dimel said. “Some of the guys that were thrown in the fire and stepped up in a big way. We were a play or two away from winning it.
 

At its most effective today was the Miner rushing offense, which accumulated its highest rushing total of the season with 317 yards. Brownholtz was a dangerous running threat all day long and had 128 yards on the ground with two touchdowns. Hankins just missed his fourth 10o yard game of the season with 99 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. 

The Miner passing offense struggled mightily all day as Brownholtz played as bad early as first-time starter might be expected to and had four interceptions by the midthird quarter. After the turnover, Brownholtz did settle down and play better. On the day, Brownholtz was off the mark more than on with 10 completions on 26 passes for 196 yards with two touchdowns. Cowling had good chemistry with Brownholtz at times, catching five passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns on the day, his most productive of the season. 

The outgunned and outmanned secondary had no answer for the North Texas receiving combo of Darden and Deonte Simpson as they both averaged over 20 yards a catch on the day.  Darden had eight receptions for 173 yards and four touchdowns as the Miners had no solution for him in its depleted secondary. Aune had 302 yards and five touchdowns in the air and added a rushing touchdown. The once-promising Miner pass rush could not get to the quarterback for a single sack for the game. 

The loss was the Miners’ fourth in a row after a 3-1 start to the season. For the second season in a  row, the Miners could not get a conference win, losing all four games.  During the Dimel era, the miners have had only one conference win and two wins over Division 1 teams. For the year, the Miners finish 3-5.  

 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]