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Miners start hot, hold off NMSU for fourth-consecutive win against rival

Jordan Leslie and Malcolm Trail celebrate after scoring a touchdown against NMSU Sept. 15 at the Sun Bowl.
Jordan Leslie and Malcolm Trail celebrate after scoring a touchdown against NMSU Sept. 15 at the Sun Bowl.

Senior quarterback Nick Lamaison said the team's motto this year is to worry about themselves and not the team they are playing. Head coach Mike Price had no problem talking about beating I-10 rival NMSU, using players such as senior defensive back Richard Spencer as an example of his team's success against them.

"The tradition, the history between us and this rivalry and to be a senior and say I never lost to them is great," Spencer said.

UTEP scored on their first four possessions of the game, led 27-0 by the second quarter and defeated the NMSU Aggies 41-28 Sept. 15 at the Sun Bowl for the fourth-consecutive year, to extend the school's second-longest winning streak against NMSU since 1986-91.

"That was our real emphasis for us...It was meaningful for our players," Price said.

And it didn't take long for UTEP to make that meaningful play. Spencer intercepted sophomore quarterback Andrew Manley on the fourth play of the game, which the Miners capitalized on the miscue when sophomore RB Josh Bell ran it in from one-yard out four minutes into the game.

"It's always good to get big plays on defense because it sets the tempo gets us going to make more plays throughout the game," Spencer said. "We were rolling, stopping them, executing the way we were supposed to do and when we do that, we can't be stopped."

UTEP's offense was balanced throughout the first half, despite not having sophomore Nathan Jeffery leading the rushing game. Four running backs combined for 113 yards in the first half and Lamaison went 16-of-22 for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

The Miners' defense held its own in the first half, too, as NMSU traveled into UTEP territory just once, and not until the end of the second quarter.

With five minutes left in the half, the Aggies drove to the Miner 49-yard line, where sophomore QB Andrew Manley would connect with sophomore WR Austin Franklin on 4th-and-3 for a 37-yard score.

The Miners would not find success on offense to begin the second half, going three-and-out on two-consecutive series and allowing NMSU to cut the lead to 27-14 with 6:03 left in the third quarter.

But freshman Autrey Golden, stepping in for Jeffery, returned his first-career kickoff return to the UTEP 46, possibly turning momentum in his team's favor as it led to another touchdown three plays later.

"Before I went out there (for the kickoff), my ten guys blocking said 'let's go, let's get it over with,'" Golden said. "I told them just set it up and I'll just run it as hard as I can. It was exciting and it got our momentum going again."

"We wanted to try to get them off balance and wanted to get them on their heels," NMSU head coach Dwayne Walker said. Obviously that didn't work because we weren't able to stay on the field."

Both sides of the ball agreed that playing No. 4 Oklahoma in week one and SEC-opponent Ole Miss on the road helped their team prepare for this game.

"It's a big difference between SEC and Oklahoma are different caliber players so playing them at first kind of humbled us coming into this game and it really helped us," Spencer said.

Sophomore kicker Steven Valadez stepped in for the injured Dakota Warren, who did not suit up tonight. Price said Jeffery was ready to play tonight but held him out and he could play next week against Wisconsin at 10 a.m. Sept. 22 in Madison.