Miners win controversial nailbiter against Owls

Kicker+Gavin+Baechle+celebrates+with+his+team+after+kicking+the+game+winning+field+goal.+Baechle+set+a+UTEP+record+for+51+consecutive+field+goals+made.+++

Alberto Silva Fernandez

Kicker Gavin Baechle celebrates with his team after kicking the game winning field goal. Baechle set a UTEP record for 51 consecutive field goals made.

Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela, Sports Editor

UTEP (4-4, 2-2 Conference USA) faced Florida Atlantic University (FAU) (3-5, 2-2 Conference USA) Oct. 22 after a week off. The Miners are coming off a difficult loss versus LA Tech. FAU led the series 2-1 prior to Saturday, having only played at the Sun Bowl once before.

First Quarter 

The annual Military Appreciation game kicked off at 2:03 p.m. on a windy autumn day with winds of up to 16 miles per hour. The Miners received the ball to start the game.  

The team’s first few drives gained momentum before two different offensive penalties forced the Miners to punt. The offense failed to put up any points in the first half but noted 68 yards compared to FAU’s 47 total yards. 

The defense limited the FAU offense throughout the first quarter, keeping the Owls out of the endzone. UTEP senior defensive end Jadrian Taylor forced a fumble with 3:01 left in the first quarter, which led the Owls to punt. 

Second Quarter

The second quarter fared much better for the Miners as it scored early into the quarter. With 11:55 in the half, UTEP senior kicker Gavin Baechle booted a 29-yard field goal pushing the score to 3-0. On the following FAU drive, UTEP senior safety Ty’Reke James recovered a fumble giving the Miners the ball at UTEP’s 36-yard line. 

After a UTEP drive that did not amount to much, the Owls drove the ball 80 yards in eight plays for a 32-yard rushing touchdown from FAU running back Larry McCammon, giving the Owls a 7-3 lead with 2:33 left in the half. UTEP answered with a 32-yard field goal attempt after driving the ball 60 yards in seven plays over the course of 2:03 to close out the half. The score at halftime was 7-6, FAU. 

Going into halftime, the Miners recorded 107 passing yards and 60 rushing yards for 167 total yards. The Owls picked up the pace outrushing the Miners with 129 yards contributing to its 211 total yards.

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  • Running back Deion Hankins runs across the field while avoiding FAU defense.

  • Wide receiver Tyrin Smith avoids a tackle from FAU safety Amari Wansley on Oct. 22.

  • Running back Ronald Awatt runs down the sideline while playing against FAU on Oct. 22 at the Sun Bowl.

  • Junior efensive end Praise Amaewhule attempts to make a play on the ball after FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry throws a pass, Oct. 22.

  • Fans were visibly and verbally upset after a unsportsmanlike conduct call on defensive end Praise Amewhule during a blocked kick contributed to a defensive point after attempt.

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Third Quarter 

The Owls received the ball to start the second half but could not manage a score. After both teams exchanged punts, the Owls ended up on the UTEP 29-yard line after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost UTEP 15 yards. The Owls could not push the ball downfield, netting negative five yards, forcing FAU to settle for a 52-yard field goal attempt. The attempt by freshman FAU kicker Morgan Suarez missed the uprights, proving that the wind was a critical factor in this matchup. 

After the defense gave the offense some light, the Miners began the drive at the UTEP 41-yard line. After converting a third-and-five, junior quarterback Gavin Hardison threw a pass which was tipped and intercepted by junior FAU safety Teja Young, which led to Hardison’s third pick-six of the season. This put the score at 14-6, FAU, with 5:22 left in the third.  

The Miners answered back on their next drive, which totaled 78 yards over 3 plays, concluding with a 5-yard touchdown rush from Hardison and a successful two-point conversion to UTEP senior tight end Trent Thompson. The highlight of the drive was a 72-yard rush from sophomore running back Deion Hankins, a career long for the sophomore. 

Fourth Quarter 

After a FAU punt, the Miners offense capitalized on the momentum shift scoring once again after a massive 27-yard gain from Hankins, which led to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Hardison to senior wide receiver Reynaldo Flores. The Miners took the lead, pushing the score to 21-14 with 12:11 left in the game. 

Following a UTEP punt, FAU drove the ball 89 yards in seven plays, scoring a 17-yard passing touchdown to senior FAU tight end Austin Evans. As the Owls attempted the point after, junior defensive end Praise Amaewhule blocked the attempt. In doing so, Amaewhule lost his helmet becoming an ineligible receiver. The ball was recovered by sophomore cornerback Latrez Shelton at the UTEP 48-yard line. Shelton rushed downfield for 52 yards into the endzone, but the scoring play was controversially negated after officials called an unsportsmanlike conduct on Amaewhule. This placed the ball at the UTEP one-yard line for a second point after attempt. The score was tied 21-21 with 4:36 left in the game. 

Fans filled the Sun Bowl with boos at officials expressing their contempt for the call. One of those fans was Patricia Flores, who spoke to The Prospector’s audience and engagement editor Josie Avila, on the contentious call. 

“I don’t understand what footlocker (the officials) is doing!” Flores said. “You can see the ball hit (Amaewhule’s) helmet off. We could have lost that game because of this stupidness.” 

Another fan took their frustrations by placing a message for fans on their phone. The message read, “Report the head ref @ www.sportsrec.com.” 

Following the contentious call, UTEP methodically drove the ball downfield for 59-yards, killing 3:29 in the process. With four seconds left in the game, Head Coach Dana Dimel called a timeout allowing Baechle to attempt a 27-yard field goal. After being iced by an FAU timeout, Baechle nailed the field goal, running out the clock and giving UTEP its fourth win of the season with the final score sitting at 24-21. 

Game Summary 

The Miners got off to a rocky start in the first half, but found its footing after Hardison’s pick-six, scoring 17 points after that drive. Hardison threw 16 of 26 for 178 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Whereas the rushing attack provided 234 yards between Hankins, Hardison, senior running back Ronald Awatt and sophomore wide receiver Tyrin Smith. Clearly, the team succeeds on the run game as they have in all its wins this season. 

The UTEP defense once again showed up as it recorded 65 total tackles, 27 solo tackles, three sacks and seven tackles for loss. Taylor made his presence known back on the field as he noted four solo tackles and two of the team’s sacks. 

On special teams, kicker Gavin Baechle made school history after scoring the game-winning field goal. The 27-yard kick marked his fifty-first consecutive career field goal, which broke the previous school record of 50. 

UTEP found itself winning an unnecessarily tight matchup after once again struggling with penalties and conservative play calling. The Miners committed a total of nine penalties, adding up to 56 yards. FAU only committed three penalties for 25 yards. 

At a critical point in the second quarter, Dimel decided not to go for a fourth-and-one. The team was only shy a yard from the first down, but in a baffling series of events that consisted of two back-to-back timeouts from the Miners, Dimel simply decided to burn two timeouts for a punt that led to an FAU touchdown. Had Dimel called a successful play, the momentum would have shifted to UTEP much earlier, allowing the team to not play from behind. 

The Miners stay in El Paso as the team awaits to play their homecoming game against Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Sun Bowl.  

Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is the sports editor and may be reached at [email protected]: @rivasemmanuel2 on Instagram