UTEP Squeezes Past Houston Baptist In Season Opener, 36-34
Too close for comfort.
But close only counts in horseshoes.
Despite trailing 28-20 midway into the third quarter, the Miners outscored the Houston Baptist Huskies 16-6 to close the game with a slim 36-34 win at the Sun Bowl.
And in front of 34,646 fans for the season debut, the Miners needed this win—their first win at the Sun Bowl since Nov. 26, 2016.
"It's like I told the guys in the locker room, just find a way to win a football game and that's such a big step for our football team right now," second-year head coach Dana Dimel said. "We had a ton of adversity. We knew we had a ton of adversity out there. There's no better thing than a young football team that's just trying to find a win to scratch out this win."
"We are 1-0 and we need to continue to work to get better each day."
Senior tailback Treyvon Hughes led the way offensively with 23 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Brandon Jones had a decent outing, completing 10-of-20 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"This is the first win in a minute," Hughes said. "I like getting the bal and plus I'm a bigger body so the hits don't hurt me as they do other guys."
In the first half, the Miners jumped off to a strong start, holding the Huskies to a quick three-and-out on their opening drive and capped off their nine-play, 40-yard opening drive with a 30-yard field goal by Gavin Baechle.
The UTEP defense forced a punt on Houston Baptists' ensuing drive, while Jones hit sophomore Tre'Shon Wolf for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. UTEP got off to a quick 10-0 lead.
Houston Baptist responded with a pair of touchdowns to take the lead, as quarterback Bailey Zappe marched down the Huskies 75 yards on 13 plays, capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Larkin. Jones was then intercepted by Houston Baptists' Caleb Johnson, who ran back the interception for a 26-yard touchdown return.
Jones avenged his interception by rushing three times on the next drive for 42 yards, placing the Miners in scoring position and set up a Treyvon Hughes three-yard rushing touchdown. Both teams exchanged field goals before halftime and the Miners led 20-17 at the break.
"It's really important for us [to start fast] and as it played itself out, it was really important to get that lead," Dimel said.
Out of the half, Houston Baptist scored on a 16-yard pass from Zappe to Ben Ratzlaff. They disrupted the Miners' offense after a high snap resulted in a UTEP safety. An HBU field goal made it 28-20 midway into the third quarter.
The Miners rallied through the final stretch of the game, as Jones and the running game helped march the Miners 75 yards in eight plays, capped off by a Jones three-yard rushing touchdown.
On a quick, five-play sub-three minute drive, the Miners scored on a 19-yard keeper by Treyvon Hughes to regain the lead 33-28 going into the fourth quarter. UTEP's defense was able to shrug off a Huskies touchdown and nailed a 35-yard field goal by Gavin Baechle to give them the 36-34 lead.
Despite the defense allowing Zappe to throw for 300 passing yards and two touchdowns, the biggest stop of the night came in the final minutes of the game, when UTEP stopped what looked to be a potential scoring drive by Houston Baptist and Chris Richardson forced a fumble to give the Miners the ball back. UTEP's offense was able to run out the time and the Miners squeezed past with a win.
Next week, the Miners (1-0) will face Texas Tech on the road (Sept. 7).