Miners beat Rice 24 to 21; Bowl hopes still alive

It was supposed to be a rerun Friday night, with UTEP entering the game having lost eight of the past nine meetings against Rice. But the Miners had one thing on their minds: Outlast the Owls; and that they did – for the first time since Oct. 9 2010 –  defeating Rice 24 to 21.

With the game tied at 21, just over eight minutes left to play and Rice driving into UTEP territory, Rice’s Driphus Jackson pass was tipped and nearly intercepted on a third down play by UTEP defensive back Michael Lewis.

On the ensuing field-goal attempt, Nick Usher blocked it to keep the game tied at 21 with 8 minutes, 13 seconds left to play.

Rice at UTEP-31That’s when running back, Jeremiah Laufasa led the Miners drive spanning 7 minutes, 25 seconds and setting up a Jay Mattox 24-yard field goal for the go-ahead 24-21 lead.

“It just gives us more confidence to be able to have a drive like that where we can just run it whenever we wanted to, getting big chunks in the run game and to control the clock like that at the end of the game was huge. Especially as a confidence builder,” quarterback Mack Leftwich said.

Laufasa finished the night with 15 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown after fellow back, LaQuintus Dowell left the game due to leg injury.

After a scoreless first quarter, both the Miners and the Owls exchanged touchdowns with the Miners tying the game a 14 in the final seconds of the first half.

A pair of touchdown passes from Leftwich to Jaquan White in the first half kept the UTEP chances alive. Leftwich finished the night with 231 passing yards, completing 18 of 36 attempts with the two scores, while being protected by an offensive line that didn’t allow a single sack.

“It’s nice that they have confidence in me to throw the ball down the field. There were a couple of throws that I wish I had back and I feel like I should have made,” Leftwich said. “Overall, I thought we did a decent job in the passing game and were successful on some of the shots.”

UTEP once again faced a 4th and 1 as they did against Florida Atlantic, and were faced to make a decision on whether to punt or attempt to convert, Laufasa got the call gaining 19 yards to set up the Miners in scoring position.

“That just means coach [Sean] Kugler has a lot of trust in me and the o-line, the receivers blocking on the perimeter. I really appreciate that,” Laufasa said. “That’s a real boost in confidence, when we’re back up in our territory and coach still trusts you to get that first down.”

Laufasa credited the offensive line, stating that they don’t get the “glory” they deserve.

The Miners took their first lead of the game after two-yard touchdown run from Laufasa with 8:24 left in the third quarter.

The Owls tied the game in the closing seconds of the third quarter after Jackson hit Luke Turner on a corner route for a 23-yard touchdown pass.

Rice at UTEP-37With the win the Miners advance to 4-5 on the season, while dropping Rice to the same record, but now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. With three game remaining in the season, UTEP’s bowl eligible hopes remain alive, with the target number of wins being at six.

“We’re not dead yet and our kids know that. They want to go to a bowl game,” Kugler said. “We have to get two of the next three to be bowl eligible and our kids are going to go fight to do that. They want to go to the bowl game, the seniors want to finish strong. Regardless on how the season’s gone, I’m very proud of this team.”

Next up for the Miners is a trip to Norfolk, Virginia to take on Old Dominion on Nov. 14 before returning home for their final home game of the season Nov. 21 against Louisiana Tech.

“That was a must-win game for us really. Now that we got the win, we have another good team in Old Dominion,” Leftwich said. “We have to be ready to play and hopefully get a win.”