Jarred Craft rushed for 146 yards, including a game-changing 70-yard score early in the fourth quarter, as LA Tech pulled away down the stretch for a 28-7 win over UTEP on Saturday in Ruston.
Making his first start for the Miners since the 2015 season finale, quarterback Ryan Metz gave the offense a lift before taking a blow to the head with about nine minutes left in the game. UTEP trailed 21-7 at that point and was facing fourth and three at the Bulldog 22-yard line.
Zack Greenlee came in and threw an incomplete pass to Hayden Plinke, who established season highs for catches (eight) and yards (66).
Louisiana Tech (2-3, 1-1 C-USA) put the game away with a 12-play, 78-yard drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Higgins to Trent Taylor with 1:29 remaining.
Higgins completed 19-of-28 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and Taylor snared 10 balls for 121 yards and a score.
Metz finished 20-of-28 for 215 yards with a touchdown and an interception for UTEP (1-4, 0-2 C-USA).
“I thought the kids competed real hard,” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “Once again, I didn’t think we played very smart. We had numerous third down opportunities canceled out because of penalties. I thought Ryan Metz gave the offense a good spark. Unfortunately for him, he got hit pretty hard, which I thought was outside the sidelines. He’ll be out, for how long I don’t know. He competed well tonight, moved the offense well, we just didn’t generate enough points.”
Kugler indicated that Metz will go through concussion protocol.
The Miner defense forced LA Tech to punt on four consecutive possessions – its longest streak in a game since the 2014 season — before breaking down on Craft’s long run.
“We don’t all-out pressure a whole lot,” Kugler said. “That’s kind of the risk you have when you do all-out pressure, if you don’t hit home and they hit the crease, whether it’s a run or a pass they can hit a big home run and that’s what happened on that play. It was in a desperation time and we were in a position where we did have to blitz and they beat us on that one.”
Before that, UTEP trailed 14-7 after Metz engineered a 15-play, 58-yard scoring drive. He connected with Plinke for a 10-yard TD with 14:55 to play to make it a one possession game.
The Bulldogs scored on both of their first quarter possessions, with the first drive spanning 84 yards and the second 91 yards. Higgins completed 9-of-10 passes for 130 yards in the period, throwing for one touchdown and rushing for another. He hooked up with Craft for a 17-yard TD and scampered 22 yards for six points.
The Miner defense tightened the screws in the second quarter, holding LA Tech to two first downs and 10 plays totaling 38 yards. UTEP’s best chance to get on the board ended when Metz threw an interception on second and one at the Bulldog 30-yard line.
Aaron Jones rushed 20 times for 94 yards, joining John Harvey and Howard Jackson as the only Miners to gain 3,000 yards in their careers.
Eddie Sinegal became the first UTEP player to compile 100 yards receiving in a game this season as he finished with 102 yards on six catches.
The Miners outgained the Bulldogs, 415 yards to 387, but committed two turnovers to LA Tech’s zero. UTEP was also penalized six times for 55 yards while LA Tech had two penalties for 12 yards.
“Defensively I thought we played extremely well in spurts and then we gave up the big plays. The big run, the big catch,” Kugler said. “We’ve just got to feed off each other. When the offense scores, the defense has got to come out and get a third and out. When the defense stops them and puts the offense in good field position, they’ve got to take advantage and score. I thought we moved the ball efficiently but seven points isn’t going to cut it. I thought we played efficiently on defense in spurts, but giving up 28 points isn’t going to cut it. We’ve got a lot of things that we’ve got to solve. I thought we probably played the two best teams in Conference USA back-to-back. The scores probably don’t indicate that, but I think we’re closer probably than what the outside view is.”
The Miners will be home for three of their next four games starting next Saturday (Oct. 8) when they host FIU at 6 p.m. Tickets, starting at $12, are available by calling 747-5234.