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UTEP Spoils Chance at Bowl Eligibility With 35-27 Loss to Western Kentucky

It ended in a much different way than most expected. A pick six turned the tides and the Miners are left still one win short of bowl eligibility.

Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Doughty passed for 324 yards and 3 touchdowns, and the Miners lost the turnover battle 1-0, marking the first time they've had a negative turnover margin since their last defeat at Louisiana Tech more than a month ago.

The Miners would strike first in this one, taking the ball 73 yards in 5 plays following an opening Western Kentucky punt. The UTEP drive would stall inside the 15 though, and the Miners would settle for an early 3-0 lead.

Western Kentucky only needed 2:41 to go 75 yards for the go ahead score on a 50 yard pass and catch from Doughty to wideout Joel German. That score gave the Hilltoppers the lead at 7-3 just over 6 minutes into the ball game.

Autrey Golden would have the answer though as he took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to the house, the second time he's done so in the last two weeks, allowing the Miners to regain the lead at 10-7 with still 8:44 left in the quarter.

The UTEP defense would force three straight punts from the WKU offense, and the Miners would tack on another touchdown on their next offensive possession, a 1 yard Josh Bell run, giving them a 17-7 lead late in the first quarter.

That lead would remain the same until Jay Mattox tacked on a 29 yard field goal to put the Miners up 20-17 midway through the second. Western Kentucky would have the final say of the half though, putting together an 8 play 74 yard drive to cut the UTEP lead to 6 heading to the break.

UTEP would engineer an absolute beauty of a drive to start the second half, going 86 yards in 18 plays, controlling the ball for the first 11:20 of the third quarter. That drive was capped by a 3 yard Nathan Jeffery run that put the Miners ahead 27-14.

Unfortunately, the good times would end there for the Miners. Western Kentucky needed just 1:57 to get the game back to a one possession difference, getting a 7 yard catch by Willie McNeal to make the score 27-21.

The wheels would fall off on the next UTEP possession. After driving the ball well into field goal range, deep in WKU territory, a Jameill Showers pass was tipped at the line, intercepted, and returned 90 yards for the go ahead score.

Things just wouldn't get headed back in the Miners direction, as the offense would be unable to move the ball, and the defense would be unable to contain Western Kentucky. The Toppers would tack on another touchdown, and would walk away with the 35-27 victory.

UTEP was led by Jameill Showers, who finished just 9 of 22 for 158 yards and an interception. Josh Bell and David Hamm each rushed for 68 yards, and Ian Hamilton was the leading receiver with 2 grabs for 91 yards.

Western Kentucky was led by Brandon Doughty, who passed for 324 yards and 3 touchdowns. Leon Allen finished with 48 yards rushing and 1 touchdown on 14 carries, and Joel German had 3 catches for 98 yards and a score.

As a team, the Miners managed 394 total yards, to 359 for the Hilltoppers, while holding a 19 to 16 advantage in first downs. The real difference in the game though, turned out to be UTEP's lone turnover.

The heartbreaking loss drops the Miners to 5-4 overall and 3-2 in Conference USA play, while improving Western Kentucky to 4-5 and 2-4.

This game was the Miners' to lose, and lose it they did. The Hilltoppers had absolutely no answer for the run in the second half, and for some inexplicable reason, the Miners decided to pass on that 3rd and 6 from the 16, rather than run and at worse secure a 9 point lead early in the fourth.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and its easy to second guess a call that goes wrong, but the truth is, the Miners had absolutely no business throwing in that situation. The interception completely changed momentum in the game, and the Miners just didn't have a chance from there.

As tough of a loss as it was, the season is far from over, and this team will have to rebound from it in a hurry. Next Saturday, the Miners will take on North Texas in the Sun Bowl, in a game where they'll have another opportunity to clinch bowl eligibility. Kickoff for that game is slated for 8:00 p.m. MT.

Make sure to stay tuned to MinerRush for coverage of all things UTEP sports. Also, make sure to on Twitter and as always don't forget to like our Facebook Page. Picks Up, and Go Miners!