After a 1-2 start to the season, the Miners finally come home with extra pep in their step following the overtime win against rival New Mexico State Saturday night, 50 to 47.
As win against the Aggies came in dramatic and exciting fashion, UTEP head coach Sean Kugler allows his players 24 hours to celebrate and then move on to the next opponent. That’s exactly what will need to happen for the Miners to avoid a letdown against Incarnate Word on Saturday.
“Kids came out ready to work today, they’re energized,” Kugler said. “Anytime you come back as down as we were – and the kids kept fighting…pulled off maybe one of the biggest comeback wins in school history against a rival team – they’re energized and they practiced well.”
The Miners will host the FCS’s Incarnate Word Cardinals in their final non-conference game of the season. The home opener comes after a three-game road trip to begin the season.
“We’re extremely excited about coming back to the Sun Bowl, I kind of joke about it, but our fans up there (Las Cruces) were outstanding,” Kugler said. “They were vocal, they energized our players after the game, our players were so excited to have the fanbase there. It doesn’t go unnoticed, we love our fans, we can’t wait to have them come out this week in the Sun Bowl and give us the energy we need.”
Andress grad Ryan Metz, became the hero of the game in the win, after he replaced the injured Mack Leftwich.
“My prayers go out to Mack (Leftwich), it’s sad that he went out, I got some big shoes to fill,” Metz said. “He’s a really good quarterback and he’s a good friend of mine and I wish him all the best, but it is a really good feeling to be able to come in here at the Sun Bowl, in my hometown and start the game.”
Metz now enters the week of preparation as the starter for the Miners, something he said he’s been preparing for since training camp, despite being third on the depth chart to begin the season.
“I treated every week as if I might be put in there, last week Garrett (Simpson) had come back and I didn’t get as many reps,” Metz said. “Coach again said, ‘get mental reps and make sure you know what’s going on because your number might be called.’ I took that to heart, I try and treat every week like I was going to be the starter.”
The Miners managed to win their first game without their best player in Aaron Jones, who is out for the season. The offense was built to feature Jones’ skills and now Kugler is looking at Metz and other players to create productivity in the offense.
“We’ll always try and utilize the strengths of our players…one thing Ryan can do he can run, he’s got a strong arm so of course we’ll try and utilize that,” Kugler said. “Again, we’re gaining more trust in our receivers, I’m feeling real good about our receiving group moving forward, those guys are making plays…really the most improved group on the team.”
One of those receivers is another local talent Coronado alumni Cole Freytag, who aided UTEP’s comeback win by scoring one of the two touchdowns needed to tie the game with four minutes left to play. Freytag, like Metz, is looking forward to playing at the Sun Bowl in front of family and friends.
“It’s everything, my family is going to be there,” Freytag said. “The crowd, the energy there’s nothing like playing in the Sun Bowl, so it means a lot.”
This marks the first ever meeting between Incarnate Word and the Miners. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 26 at the Sun Bowl.