Royce Caldwell scored the go-ahead touchdown on a long pass play late in the third quarter, and NM State held on for a 27-20 victory over UTEP on Saturday in the Sun Bowl.
On a third-and-five play near midfield, Aggie quarterback Josh Adkins hooked up with Caldwell for the 53-yard score with 2:46 remaining in the period, breaking a 17-17 deadlock.
The Miners (0-4) closed the gap to 24-20 on a 34-yard field goal by Jason Filley with 8:20 to go in the final period.
UTEP held the Aggies (1-4) to a field goal and got the ball back with 3:24 remaining, but Kai Locksley’s desperation pass on fourth and long was intercepted by NMSU’s Austin Perkins to seal the outcome.
“A lot of positives,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “You look at the game and how it played out. The way we ran the football, the way we controlled the line of scrimmage, the way we executed statistically, if you looked at the game we won the statistics but that doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to win points, and that’s the thing we didn’t do.”
UTEP racked up 64 rushing attempts, its most in a game since 1997, as Quardraiz Wadley picked up his second career 100-yard night with 111 yards on 20 carries.
Locksley added 27 carries for 64 yards as UTEP gained 235 yards on the ground. But the Miners were caught running backwards a little too often, as the Aggies registered eight sacks.
The game got off to a rough start for the Miners as Mitchell Crawford’s punt on the first possession of the game was blocked by the Aggies’ Christian Gibson and returned 19 yards for a TD by Izaiah Lottie.
UTEP responded nicely with a nine-play, 75-yard drive, as Locksley ran into the end zone from one yard out to knot the game at 7.
After the teams exchanged field goals, things took a turn for the worse for UTEP late in the second half. First, driving for the go-ahead score, the Miners coughed up the football inside the red zone. Then, after UTEP’s A.J. Hotchkins sacked Adkins and Jamar Smith recovered his fumble near midfield, Locksley was sacked himself by Cedric Wilcots II, fumbled and Malik Demby returned the miscue 55 yards for a 17-10 NMSU lead.
“Too many mistakes,” Dimel said. “It starts off with a blocked punt to start a game. When you get a punt blocked, I think the percentage of winning, they’ve done surveys on that, I think the chance of winning is 18 percent. We get a punt blocked, and then we had the turnover there in the second quarter, and then the turnover late in the second quarter, that was big too. It took points off the board and gave them points. We gave them 14 points with the blocked punt and the turnover, and took some off the board with the fumble going in. So those obviously were costly mistakes for us.”
The second half began on a high note for the Miners as they forced a three-and-out, the Aggies punted and Locksley connected with Terry Juniel for a 76-yard touchdown pass to tie it up once again at 17.
“I thought the fight was there, and I saw some really positive body language when we tied it up at 17-17,” Dimel said. “I saw that spark that I’d like for our team to continue to develop and have throughout the games, where we can really get to that point where we’re learning how to win football games when they’re close.”
The Miners missed a chance to take their first lead when Filley’s 44-yard field goal was wide right with 4:07 left in the third quarter. A minute and a half later, the Aggies got the lead back for good.
Making his first career start, redshirt freshman Adkins completed 9-of-18 passes for 156 yards for the Aggies. Gibson rushed for 103 yards on 10 carries.
Locksley threw for 194 yards for the Miners, completing 10-of-16 passes.
UTEP piled up 429 yards of offense to NMSU’s 311 and dominated the time of possession line (40:48 to 19:12), but the Miners had three turnovers to the Aggies’ one.
Javahn Fergurson turned in a dominating performance on defense for NMSU with 17 tackles. He was one of three Aggies with double-figure stops as Leon McQuaker and Ron LaForce had 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Hotchkins led the Miners in tackles for the third time in four games with eight stops.
“I said every week you’ll find improvement in this football team, and tonight they [NMSU] had one of their starters back who has been out all year at the defensive end position,” Dimel said. “They’ve got a good defensive football team and we played pretty well against them offensively. We just need to finish better.”
UTEP will kick off Conference USA play at UTSA next Saturday (Sept. 29) at 5 p.m. MT. The game can be seen on ESPN+.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post
Ian Baker continued to torment the UTEP Miners, scoring 24 points in his final game of the I-10 rivalry as NM State posted a 79-70 victory on Friday at the Pan American Center.
Baker made 8-of-14 shots, 6-of-10 three pointers and 2-of-2 free throws while adding four assists as NMSU (13-2) completed a sweep of the Miners (2-10), who nevertheless played much better the second time around.
“Congrats to the Aggies. They did a really nice job,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought they played with a lot of poise. Baker is a terrific guard. [Braxton] Huggins gives us fits.”
The Miners surprised NM State early by starting the game with a 10-0 run. The Aggies put together a 17-0 run of their own a little bit later, hitting five three-pointers to turn a 14-5 deficit into a 22-14 lead.
Trailing 38-30 at the half, UTEP scored the first six points of the second half to pull within two (38-36) on a Matt Willms dunk with 18:35 remaining. Willms scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half.
The Aggies scored the next 11 points, including eight from Baker, to match their biggest lead at 49-36 with 15:10 to go. The Miners hung around, cutting it to five with 11:45 left and seven in the final half-minute.
“I thought they adjusted to our zone, forced us to get out of our zone,” Floyd said. “We played probably more zone than what we would’ve liked to anyway. But overall they made shots when they needed to.”
Dominic Artis went over the 900-point mark for his career, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Omega Harris added 12 points, and Paul Thomas had eight points and seven rebounds.
The Miners matched the Aggies on the boards (28-28), and made four more field goals (29-25).
“I’m proud of a lot of things with our team,” Floyd said. “Generally when you’re playing zone that translates to you shooting more free throws. We didn’t get to the line enough. They got there 26 times playing man-to-man, we got there eight times playing zone and generally that’s flipped. We just didn’t get there enough tonight and we would’ve liked to have gotten there more.”
Despite their losing streak reaching nine games, the Miners are optimistic heading into Conference USA play, which starts on Sunday at UTSA.
“We are making strides because Matt Willms is playing at his best level this season and Paul Thomas is playing at his best level, and that’s a great thing,” Floyd said. “Our team showed resolve. We came out with poise to start the game. We’ve got a couple of players that are going to beat themselves up on some plays they’d like to have back, which is the case in every game. But we now have to get into league play and I trust that we’ll continue to get better.”
NM State received 17 points and 11 rebounds from Jemerrio Jones. Huggins scored 15 points and Eli Chuha added 13.
The Aggies shot 60 percent in the first half and 54.3 percent for the game and made 10-of-25 threes (7-of-15 in the first half). UTEP shot 49.2 percent.
“We’re shooting for a better percentage and we seem to have much more poise than what we had and more purpose,” Floyd said. “I think our guards are doing a better job of getting us into play offensively. We’ve got to continue to get better. We don’t have much time. We have a quick turnaround for the league opener. I have never had to flip the switch and go get into conference play this quick. This game probably should’ve been played last night versus tonight, in terms of what is in our best interest. We’ll be flying out tomorrow afternoon. But I’ll be curious to see how we go on the road and play.”
The Miners’ first three league games will be away from home, including matchups at Southern Miss and LA Tech next week. Tip-off for Sunday’s game is at 2 p.m. MT.
Staff Report December 29, 2016Sports, UTEPComments Off on Battle of I-10 Returns in Rare Post-Christmas Matchup Friday
For just the second time in 15 years, UTEP and NM State will square off after Christmas when the Battle of I-10 shifts to the Pan American Center in Las Cruces on Friday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
The Aggies (12-2) handled the Miners (2-9) with relative ease on Dec. 13 in El Paso. They maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half in an eventual 79-68 triumph. Ian Baker led NMSU with 20 points, and Jemarrio Jones added a double-double off the bench with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
“The Aggies have got a heck of a club this year,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “They have proven that. They have won on the road. They have won at home. They are playing with a lot of confidence. They appear to have just about everything. They have really nice inside players and terrific guards. They are playing well together, playing with each other. They sure gave us a lot of problems here. It will be a tough one over there. We’re going to have to go over there with a lot of spirit, a lot of enthusiasm, we’re going to have to play together and make some shots.”
UTEP will be coming off an eight-day break between games, trying to end an eight-game losing streak against an Aggie squad that has won 10 in a row.
“Everybody has had a break,” Floyd said. “They have had a break, we have had a break. I know that we probably needed it. We regrouped, we came back energized. Our guys have practiced well for a couple of days. We had one little setback with Jake Flaggert breaking his nose in the Irvine game. It’s our third broken nose of the year [Ivan Venegas and Matt Willms are the others]. We’ll hope that he’s able to play through that. He has probably led the nation in charges attempted. He’s always on the floor, always picking himself up off the floor, he’s a tough kid and we’re sure that he’ll try to play over there.”
In the first meeting between the squads, Omega Harris led the Miners with 18 points while Dominic Artis scored 15. Artis leads UTEP in rebounding (6.5 rpg), assists (7.5 apg), steals (2.4 spg) and minutes (36.4 mpg) and has firmly established himself as the team leader.
“You like that,” Floyd said. “As a senior he should, and as a point guard he should. They are the guys that should take responsibility in losses and give credit to others in wins. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. That’s the way NFL quarterbacks do it. But he’s a good kid, he’s trying hard. I have been really pleased with his makeup, who he is every day when he comes in to work, and I think he’s playing good basketball.”
Floyd is hopeful that Matt Willms will be able to put up more consistent numbers moving forward as the Miners round out their non-conference slate before diving into Conference USA action on Sunday.
“Matt is practicing throughout the entire practice now for the first time,” he said. “We did that for two days prior to the [Sun Bowl] tournament and I thought it helped him. We’re just at a point where we’ve got to go one way or the other. He seems to have been able to withstand the rigors of two hard practices since we got back, and I trust that he’s going to be able to go over there and play maybe at a higher level than what he played earlier in the season.”
The Miners will have their hands full on Friday. The Aggies shot 54.9 percent from the field in the first matchup, outrebounded the Miners 38-28 and won by 11 despite turning it over 20 times.
“Their guards is where you start,” Floyd said. “[Braxton] Huggins and [Ian] Baker are outstanding. That’s not all they have. Their inside guys, [Eli] Chuha is doing a really nice job for them in his first year as a starter. They gave us problems with their length and size and their athleticism. I thought they were better than us in all areas the first time we played.”
The Miners are beginning a challenging stretch of four consecutive road games.
“We’re just excited to get back and go play again,” Floyd said. “When you get beat, it’s no fun. You don’t necessarily enjoy the practices that follow because they are generally about correcting things that you’re not doing well. So guys like to compete, they like to get out and play, and hopefully we’ll play with some spirit.”