By: Denise Mata
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Utah State stymied UTEP’s vaunted ground game, and did just enough on offense to come away with a 21-6 win over the Miners in the ninth annual Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday at University Stadium.
UTEP’s first winning season in nine years ended with a 7-6 record.
The Aggies (10-4) took a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter, then allowed the Miners to cross midfield on just two of their six second-half drives. UTEP finished with 12 first downs, 275 yards of offense and 149 yards rushing. The Miners averaged 3.2 yards per carry, about right at the season average for Utah State opponents coming into the contest.
The Miners got on the board first. A 32-yard field goal by Jay Mattox with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter put UTEP ahead 3-0. The key play of the drive was a Jameill Showers roll out and 53-yard pass to Ian Hamilton on third and 10 from the UTEP 26-yard line.
Utah State answered with a big play of its own. Kent Myers’ 48-yard rush on a first down at midfield lifted the Aggies into a 7-3 lead.
Both teams squandered scoring opportunities late in the second period. UTEP came up empty in the red zone as Mike Ruggles bobbled Nick Dooley’s snap on a 25-yard field goal attempt. Wildcat Ronald Butler came in at quarterback for Utah State and promptly rushed 61 yards to the UTEP 29-yard line. The Aggies moved another 18 yards, but couldn’t cash in as Nick Diaz’s 28-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
Utah State built the 14-3 cushion on its first drive of the third quarter. The Aggies advanced 75 yards on seven plays, capped by Nick Vigil’s three-yard scamper for a score. It was the third rushing score of the year for the star linebacker. Utah State had a 46-yard completion (Myers to JoJo Natson) and a 14-yard running play (Myers) on the series.
The Miners were finally able to get something going offensively in the fourth quarter when they marched 54 yards on 16 plays, and Mattox booted a 34-yard field goal to make it a one possession game. But Utah State put it away with a four-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Joe Hill put the exclamation point on the drive, and the game, with an 11-yard rush into the end zone.
Aaron Jones rushed 25 times for 88 yards to lead UTEP. Jones moved into 10th place on the Miners’ career rushing list with 2,132 yards and ended the season with 1,321 yards, the fourth-top seasonal total in school annals. Jameill Showers, in his final college game, completed 13-of-24 passes for 126 yards. Hamilton recorded a game-high 79 receiving yards.
Myers threw for 68 yards and rushed for 70 to lead the Aggies. The UTEP defense kept the Miners in the game, yielding 347 yards. Adrian James spearheaded the Miners’ defensive effort with seven tackles and a forced fumble.
The Miners were whistled for 75 penalty yards, their most under coach Sean Kugler.
Despite the tough finish, it was a season to remember for UTEP, which rebounded from a 2-10 campaign to make its first trip to a bowl game in four years.