Gallery+Story: LA Tech tops UTEP 21-17

RUSTON, La. – Bidding for a third straight victory, UTEP gave perennial C-USA West Division power Louisiana Tech all it could handle on Saturday night at Joe Aillet Stadium.  But the Bulldogs were able to escape with a 21-17 victory on a night where the Miners were whistled for 12 penalties totaling 128 yards.

It spoiled another dynamite performance by the UTEP defense, which limited LA Tech to 210 yards while registering season-highs in sacks (four) and tackles for losses (13).  Defensive end Praise Amaewhule was a monster for the Miners with five tackles, 3.5 sacks and four pass breakups.

UTEP got a special teams touchdown out of Duron Lowe but struggled offensively, although the Miners did outgain the Bulldogs with 266 total yards.

The Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 C-USA) scored on their opening possession, as Israel Tucker capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 15-yard rushing touchdown.  The UTEP defense went into lockdown mode after that, as LA Tech was forced to punt on three straight possessions.  Meanwhile, the Miners knotted the score at 7 when Gavin Hardison connected with Devaughn Cooper for a 33-yard TD with 9:56 remaining in the second quarter.

LA Tech reinstated a seven-point lead (14-7) on a 14-yard rushing score by Justin Henderson shortly before halftime.

UTEP (3-2, 0-1 C-USA) pulled to within four points (14-10) on a 29-yard field goal by Gavin Baechle with 9:02 to play in the third quarter.

Late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs pinned the Miners deep in their own territory, forced a punt and took over at their own 40-yard line.  Backup quarterback Aaron Allen engineered a 13-play, 60-yard scoring drive, culminating in Tucker’s second rushing touchdown of the night for a 21-10 lead.

But the Miners weren’t done.  Lowe ran back the kickoff 100 yards for the second special teams touchdown of his UTEP career, and the Miners were back within four (21-17) with 11:32 to go.

UTEP, however, was only able to gain 22 yards on its final three drives, and a roughing the kicker penalty late in the game extended a LA Tech drive and allowed the Bulldogs to all but run out the clock.

Still, the Miners were right in it until the end against a LA Tech team that posted 10 wins a year ago.

Hardison completed 18-of-38 passes for 206 yards in going over 1,000 yards passing for the season for UTEP.  The Miners gained 60 yards on the ground.

Two LA Tech quarterbacks – starter Luke Anthony and Allen – combined to complete 14-of-28 passes for 119 yards.

Other defensive stars for UTEP were Keenan Stewart with 12 tackles, and Stephen Forester, with 10.

UTEP returns to the Sun Bowl next Saturday (Oct. 17) to take on Southern Miss in the C-USA home opener at 5:30 p.m. MT.  The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

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Gallery by Tom Morris/UTEP