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UTEP football faulters on the road versus C-USA newcomer Jax State

UTEP now heads back to the Sun Bowl to the team’s home opener against the University of Incarnate Word Cardinals at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2. Photo courtesy of UTEP Athletics

The much anticipated 2023-2024 football season is under way for the UTEP Miners (0-1, C-USA 0-1). Unfortunately, the team started on the wrong foot.  

The Miners were favored traveling into Jacksonville, Alabama to play the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (Jax State) (1-0, C-USA 1-0).   

Several familiar faces were back on the field for the Miners like junior wide receiver Kelly Akharaiyi, junior running back Deion Hankins, and most notably senior quarterback Gavin Hardison.  

During a press conference leading up to the game, sixth-year head coach Dana Dimel expressed his expectations for his unit coming into the season.  

“We’ve got some goals that we want to accomplish (in 2023),”  Dimel said. “There’s a lot for us to work toward. We want to have the opportunity to do that by taking it one game at a time. That’s the big thing for us. We’ve got to play our kind of football.”  

Jax State ended its season 9-2 last season with a top-40 offense. When asked about the daunting opponent, Dimel expressed his praise for the squad.  

“(Jax State) did a great job,”  Dimel said. “They’re very, very athletic. Their offensive personnel is really good. Defensively, they have their whole starting defensive line coming back and three of their four starting secondary is returning. So, they’ll definitely be a big test for us.”  

First quarter  

The Miners started out strong with the defense forcing a Gamecocks punt early in the first quarter. This stop allowed the UTEP offense to drive up into Jax State territory after not huddling for the entirety of the drive.   

Dimel and the offense were faced with their first major decision on a fourth and three on Jax State’s 47-yardline. The Miners continued their aggressive play calling as Hardison and the offense stayed on the field, only to lose six yards on a sack by Gamecocks defenders.  

This allowed the Gamecocks to march down the Miners’ 23-yardline to score off a field goal on a fourth and seven.  

Neither team scored as the first quarter came to an end with Jax State on top 3 to 0.  

Second quarter  

Carrying possession from the first quarter, Jax State would drive down 80 yards to score off a four-yard rushing touchdown. After a successful point after attempt, the Miners trailed the Gamecocks 10-0 with 13:26 left in the half.  

UTEP would receive the ball at its own 25-yardline following a touchback. The Miners would continue to utilize the hurry up offense all the way up to Jax State’s 26-yardline. Once again, UTEP was faced with a decision on a fourth and five call, but this time the Miners decided to play it safe and go for the three-point play. Unfortunately, long snapper Justin Duff missed the 43-yard field goal leaving the score unchanged.  

Both teams would exchange punts until the final drive of the half. The Miners started out with the ball at the UTEP 26-yardline. In a drive that started with only 1:31 left in the half, UTEP managed to close the gap scoring on a one-yard carry from Hankins, leaving the extra point attempt to freshman kicker Buzz Flabiano.  

The Miners left the first half trailing 10 to 7.  

Third quarter  

The Miners started the second half with an interception from Hardison at Jax State’s 43-yardline. Fortunately for UTEP, the Miners defense would not allow a score as the Gamecocks were forced into a turnover on downs. Following an unsuccessful Miners drive, the Jax State would clock-in another touchdown from senior running back Malik Jackson to run the score up 17 to 7. 

Neither team would find the endzone as the third quarter came to a close.  

Fourth quarter  

With UTEP on the ropes, the Miners needed a score to open the final quarter. With that in mind, the UTEP running game placed Hardison in prime position to complete a whopping 34-yard touchdown to Akharaiyi. This placed the Miners in striking distance with a score of 17 to 14 with 12:19 left to play.  

The UTEP defense would allow the offense to potentially win the game with 4:41 on the clock. With Hardison and the rest of the Miners offense driving down the field, UTEP would seal its fate with a game-ending turnover.  

On a fourth and one play, Hardison steps up in the pocket looking for senior wide receiver Tyrin Smith. Hardison hesitates before sending the ball to Simth allowing Jax State senior safety Jeremiah Harris to pick the ball off with ease.  

The Miners would go on to lose the game 17 to 14 as the offense would not see the ball after the Hardison interception.  

“It was a dogfight to the bitter end,” said Dimel following the loss. “We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. After the game I told [the team] it came down to a couple plays that would’ve made a difference in the football game.”  

Hardison threw 17 of 29 for 208 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Sophomore running back Torrance Burgess Jr. led the team with 59 rushing yards over the course of 12 carries for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Akharaiyi gave a dominating performance with 102 passing yards over four receptions with a touchdown.  

UTEP now head back to the Sun Bowl to the team’s home opener against the University of Incarnate Word Cardinals (0-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2.  

All statistics and quotes provided by UTEP Athletics. 

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

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About the Contributor
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela, Contributor/Writer
Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is a contributor for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with minors in political science and Chicano studies. Emmanuel served as sports editor at The Prospector and as a writer with Minero Magazine. Now, Emmanuel is interning at El Paso Matters and is a contributor at The Prospector.
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