UTEP falls short at the PUBG New Mexico bowl game

Katrina Villarreal, Contributor

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  • Running back Ronnald Awatt runs down the field against Fresno State on Dec. 18,2021, at University Field

  • Wide receiver Reynaldo Flores runs over a Fresno State defender on Dec. 18,2021, at University Field

  • Wide receiver Tyrin Smith jukes a Fresno State player on Dec. 18, 2021, at University Field

  • Wide receiver Jacob Cowing misses a pass in the endzone on Dec. 18,2021, at University Field

  • Tight end Trent Thompson runs down the field for a touchdown after a fake QB sneak play against Fresno State on Dec. 18,2021, at University Field

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The UTEP Miners were defeated by the Fresno State Bulldogs in the 2021 New Mexico bowl game on Saturday, Dec. 18 at the University of New Mexico stadium with a score of 24-31. 

The Miners are making their 15th postseason appearance, and their first since 2014. UTEP is appearing in the New Mexico Bowl for the third time in 12 years after facing BYU in 2010 and Utah State in 2014. UTEP is 5-10 all-time in bowl games (0-3 in the New Mexico Bowl). The Miners have a seven-game bowl losing streak dating back to 1967. 

The Miners won the toss but elected to defer, putting the defense straight to work. The Bulldogs got off to a fast start when Fresno state senior quarterback Jake Haener handed the ball to senior running back Jordan Mims for a 38-yard run.  

Due to a pass interference call on the Miners, Fresno state was able to score a touchdown with 12:44 left in the first quarter. Fresno state elected to go for two to extend their lead, but due to a penalty for an illegal formation on the Bulldogs, it forced them to settle for the extra point, which they then missed. 

At the start of their possession the Miners got off to a fast start as well, determined to respond to the Fresno state touchdown. The Miners offense was able to complete three first downs which brought them close to the end zone, which included a 53-yard pass to junior wide receiver Reynaldo Flores.  

At fourth and goal, sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison was able to complete a one-yard pass to junior tight end Trent Thompson for a touchdown, which helped the miners take the lead in the first quarter, 7-6. 

It was a back-and-forth battle between both teams in the first half of the game. Fresno State was able to take the lead with a 42-yard field goal by senior kicker Cesar Silva, but UTEP responded with a 38-yard field goal by junior kicker Gavin Baechle giving the Miners the lead, 10-9.  

The Miners were able to extend their lead to 17-9 with a one-yard rushing touchdown by junior running back Ronald Awatt. However, with 1:52 left in the second quarter, Fresno State regained the lead after a one-yard rushing touchdown by Mims and later a 45-yard field goal by Silva. 

At halftime the score was 17-19, making it the closest New Mexico bowl game since 2009. 

Hardison completed 12-of-27 passes for 252 yards for the Miners and finished the 2021 season with 3,217 yards. Hardison became only the fifth Miner quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season and finished in fifth for the most yards thrown in a single season in UTEP history.  

Sophomore wide receiver Tyrin Smith led the Miners with three receptions for 61 yards, while the Bulldogs defense was able to keep sophomore wide receiver Jacob Cowing to only two catches for 24 yards. 

On defense, juniors Tyrice Knight and Breon Hayward both had double-digit tackles for the Miners, Knight recorded 15 and Hayward recorded 11. Hayward (108) and Knight (102) become the first UTEP duo with 100+ tackles in a season since 2005.  

Sophomore cornerback Torey Richardson was credited with his first career sack in the second quarter, along with a pass breakup, which was the team-high, eight this season. 

“We hung in there and never gave up,” Head Coach Dana Dimel said in a post-game interview. “We kept fighting and had some opportunities and never gave up. That’s been our whole team this year. We played 13 games and 11 of those 13 have been great efforts.” 

On a third-and-one at their own 49-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Miners put in backup sophomore quarterback Calvin Brownholtz for a quarterback sneak, but Brownholtz caught the Bulldogs by surprise, throwing a 51-yard pass to junior tight end Trent Thompson for a touchdown. 

With 4:03 left in the fourth quarter Hardison kept the ball and rushed for 10 yards but fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Fresno State. Fresno State decided to run down the clock by running the ball the rest of the game. The Bulldogs decided to put the game away with a victory formation on the UTEP 27. 

The final score was 24-31. 

“The PUBG MOBILE New Mexico Bowl is an outstanding event,” Dimel said. “I thought our guys managed the whole process, getting our young guys lots of reps, preparing at a high level and enjoying the experience. What a great effort from them. We played outstanding football against an outstanding football team.” 

All stats and quotes for UTEP courtesy of UTEP Athletics. 

Katrina Villarreal is a contributor and may be reached at [email protected].