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Louisiana Tech slips past upset minded UTEP 17-15

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A hard fought defensive effort by the UTEP Miners comes up short in the final seconds.

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UTEP held LA Tech to under 400-yards of total offense for the first time all season, but couldn't cash in on the offensive side themselves in a throat punch 17-15 loss inside a windy Sun Bowl.

Freshman walk-on TK Powell led UTEP with 124 yards rushing, as the Miners ran for 226 yards, while holding LA Tech's star running back Kenneth Dixon to just 39 yards on 19 carries.

"The whole team fought." said head coach Sean Kugler.  "These kids fought their hearts out."

The UTEP defense became a strong point after allowing a scoring drive on LA Tech's first possession to open the game.   UTEP would go on to force five three-and-outs and held the Bulldogs scoreless on ten of their last twelve drives on the afternoon.

LA Tech would strike first on the scoreboard, but after a 12-play, 73 yard drive the UTEP defense would force an incomplete pass on a third-and-goal from the two yard line.  The Bulldogs got a 19-yard field goal from Jonathon Barnes that took 5:13 off the clock on the games opening possession.

UTEP would come up empty on their first two offensive possessions, netting only 30-yards and a turnover on their first two tries.  But the UTEP defense would force two punts, including an impressive three-and-out that led to UTEP's first scoring drive.

Freshman walk-on TK Powell would carry five times for 65-yards to jump start UTEP's ensuing drive, then Kavika Johnson would find Cole Freytag through the air from 11 yards out to finish off an impressive 12-play, 87 yard drive that covered 6:38 and gave UTEP an 7-3 lead with 7:30 left until halftime.

The Miners used both Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson at quarterback in this one.   Metz finished the game 12-of-25 for 121 yards and an interception.  Johnson was 5-of-12 for 45 yards and a touchdown.

After forcing their second three-and-out of the half, the Miners would drive 60-yards in 12 plays, but would settle for a 37-yard field goal from Jay Mattox with 1:49 left until halftime.  The scoring drive would tick 4:50 off the clock, but the UTEP defense would surrender another late first half touchdown for the third time in the last four games.

Jeff Driskel would find Carlos Henderson for a 16-yard score off a jail break screen to cap off a quick six play, 65 yard drive to tie the game at 10 heading into halftime.

UTEP would rush for 155 yards in the first half, but allowed 7.2 yards per play, and the confidence boosting touchdown before the half.

The Miner offense would sputter on their first drive to start the second half which allowed LA Tech to grab their first lead of the afternoon.

Driskel would go deep and find Carlos Henderson for their second touchdown connection of the game. This time at 54-yard strike to cap off a quick 4-play, 80 yard drive to give LA Tech a 17-10 lead four and a half minutes into the third quarter.

Driskel finished 13-of-22 for 188 yards and two touchdowns, Henderson led all pass catchers with 78-yards receiving and the pair of touchdowns.

The Miners would punt on their next possession, but Alvin Jones and the UTEP defense put the Miners back on the board.

Alan Luna's punt would be downed at the LA Tech seven yard line, and two plays later Jones would tackle LA Tech running back Kenneth Dixon right at the goal line for a safety called on the field.  After a review, the play would stand and UTEP would grab two points, possession, and momentum.

UTEP would end up punting on their next possession, but Alan Luna once again pinned LA Tech inside their own five yard line.

The Miners would force a three-and-out, and a key coaching decision helped UTEP put three on the board.   Sean Kugler called a timeout with one second left in the third quarter to force a LA Tech punt into a nasty Sun Bowl wind.

Result: UTEP took over at the LA Tech 39-yard line, but would have to settle for a 27-yard Jay Mattox field goal to trim the Bulldog to 17-15 with 12:49 left in the fourth quarter.

With the Miners needing the defense to keep them at bay, the banged up UTEP defense did just that.

The UTEP defense would come up with three stands in the final nine minutes, including a fumble off a hand-off exchange by Driskel and Dixon that was recovered by UTEP defensive tackle Gino Bresolin.

After UTEP's fourth three-and-out of the contest, the Miners would have the ball back, but still down 17-15 with 6:41 left and the ball on their own 41-yard line.

UTEP would drive 45-yards with Kavika Johnson at quarterback, but the drive would stall at the LA Tech 14-yard line giving Jay Mattox a shot to give UTEP a late fourth quarter lead.

Kicking into the wind, Mattox would miss the 31-yard attempt wide left into the wind, and LA Tech would take over with the Miners clinging on to one last timeout with 2:38 left.

Again, the defense gave the Miners one last chance with a key three-and-out.

Ryan Metz entered the game with the ball on his own 17-yard line with 44 seconds, and no timeouts for UTEP's final drive of the day.

Metz would find Jaquan White for a 20-yard gain three plays into the drive that put UTEP at their own 43-yard line.

Four plays later with five seconds left, and UTEP still at their own 43, the Miners had one last chance.

Metz slung a deep ball into the wind that Jaquan White came down with at the LA Tech 18-yard line, but time ran out, as did UTEP's bowl eligibility window.

UTEP out gained LA Tech 392-307, but committed six costly penalties, including two pre-snap penalties that killed two second half drives when UTEP badly needed points.

All in all, it was a hard fought effort by a wounded UTEP team against a talented LA Tech squad but in the end, UTEP drops to 4-7 on the season, and looks towards getting healthy for 2016.