As the UTEP Miners learned Saturday, when it rains, it truly pours. Slogging through a four-hour long marathon game, two weather delays, a freshman quarterback throwing four interceptions, and three more injuries added to an already depleted squad, it was no surprise that lightning did in fact strike twice at the Sun Bowl. A glance toward the big, soaked scoreboard told the story: UTSA 25 – UTEP 6.
It all came to fruition for the Roadrunners following a second 35-minute lightning delay, when UTSA came out like a West Texas gullywasher; an onslaught of 15-straight points within a matter of two minutes plus during the third quarter.
The Roadrunners were looking to score with 11 seconds to go in the 2nd quarter, about to set up a field goal following a fumble by UTEP punt returner Jaquan White, at the Miner 38 when the lightning lit up the Sun Bowl yet again. Both coaches agreed to call the final seconds of the half and resume play in the third quarter following a 35-minute delay.
That extended break, which was either an extra breather, locker room restlessness or a combination of both gave the Roadruners the spark they needed to dominate the rest of the game.
UTEP, who lost their 6th-straight ConferenceUSA opener, went into a forced halftime down just 3-0, where they tried to figure out their offense that was held to 85 yards and just five first downs in the first half.
Following the second delay, UTSA was forced to punt on the ensuing drive but pinned the Miners back to their own 2-yard line. What ensued ? A total collapse in every fashion imaginable.
First it was QB Kavika Johnson, who kept the ball and was sacked at the goal line, resulting in a safety and a 5-0 UTSA lead. Next drive, Williams rushed it in from 25 yards out and finally, a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Michael Egwuagu.
A quick 15-point swing that took only 2:17 and put UTEP down 18-0. The Miners were seemingly thunderstruck by the Roadrunners.
Even though play resumed from both delays with scores from UTSA – a field goal the first time and the 15-0 run after the second one – UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler did not blame the weather.
“We don’t make excuses like that. We didn’t play well, we didn’t generate any offense, we gave up two pick sixes and a safety. It was a telling story,” Kugler said.
Despite picking up 275 yards of total offense, the UTEP offense never really found its groove as QB Ryan Metz had his worst game to date.
Metz finished 22-of-48 for 212 yards, four interceptions and a touchdown.
Two were returned for a touchdown while the third was thrown in the end zone as the Miners were down 12 just outside the red zone and with over five minutes to play.
“We’ve got a freshman quarterback in there. I’ve been telling everybody the kid’s been playing outstanding but he’s a freshman,” Kugler said. “I knew he was going to have a game like this. I couldn’t predict where or when it was going to be but I knew there was going to be a game like this.”
Holding back tears at the post-game press conference, Metz said he took full responsibility for the game, as his coach did during his interview. He also said the locker room was so quiet, “you could hear a penny drop” except for a few comforting words headed his way.
“Every player came up to me and said they still have faith in me, they still love me and that’s all that matters,” Metz said. “This is a tough one to swallow. I didn’t come in here imagining I was going to throw four interceptions and put us in a bind we were in.”
If Metz wants to move forward, he’s going to have to do it with a few key players missing on the other side of the ball. Kugler said three defensive players were hurt tonight and left the game early: linebacker Alvin Jones and safeties Ishmael Harrison and Kelvin Fisher.
“We’re beat up, man. You lose your entire starting backfield and it’s tough to regroup,” Kugler said. “We’re bare bones and we’re just going to have to fight. I can’t put it any other way.”
UTEP now hits the road and to continue CUSA play at Florida International University, next Saturday, October 10th at 10 a.m. (MDT). The American Sports Network will televise the game, and it will be seen on KDBC Channel 4.