It was a tale of two halves of sort, but the Miners offense would never get unhitched, and any hopes of an improbable second half of the season turn around were thwarted Saturday night in the Sun Bowl.
UTEP trailed just 10-7 at halftime, but four straight empty possessions in the second half, and some big second half plays by Old Dominion buried UTEP in a sound 31-21 Monarch win.
Old Dominion got on the board first with an impressive opening drive that chewed up the first six minutes of the game.
One play after converting a fourth-and-one from inside the UTEP 10-yard yard line, ODU quarterback David Washington found Travis Fulgham in the back of the north end zone on a 7-yard TD strike to capitalize on a 12-play, 75 yard drive which took exactly six minutes to open the game.
UTEP started their first drive of the game on their own five yard line, and it would end via a tipped interception by Ryan Metz’s intended receiver that fell into the hands of ODU safety Sean Carter on a third-and-four.
Carter actually returned it to the house for a score, but a penalty would negate the score, and set up the Monarchs with possession at the UTEP 18-yard line.
The Miner D would hold strong with a combined sack from Brian Madunezim and Dante Lovilette forcing ODU to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Brad Davis with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
UTEP would come up scoreless on their first four possessions of the game, with the UTEP defense getting an interception by Dashone Smith, and forced two punts in the Monarchs final three drives of the half.
But the Miners finally got on the board with a key drive to end the half.
UTEP would drive 91-yards on 13 plays which took six minutes, and ended it with a perfect play call from inside the five yard line.
Brent Pease took a page out of the UTSA playbook from last week, and dialed up a pop pass with Aaron Jones leaping and finding Hayden Plinke from 3-yards out to cap the drive and send the game into halftime with Old Dominion leading 10-7.
The Miner defense held ODU to just 51 total yards of offense after the Monarchs opening scoring drive, and piled up two sacks in the opening half.
UTEP badly needed a score with possession to start the second half, and Ryan Metz and Aaron Jones executed a perfect signature drive to do just that.
Jones finished off a 13-play, 75 yard drive that took the first 8:36 off the second half clock with a five-yard touchdown run. Metz was 3-for-3 for 27 yards passing, and extended the drive with an 11-yard rush on a third-and-five four plays before Jones hit the end zone to put UTEP ahead 13-10.
Jones accounted for 36-yards on the Miners’ long drive to open the second half and tied UTEP legend Howard Jackson for fourth all-time on UTEP’s rushing touchdown list with the go-ahead score.
Although the Monarchs had a huge answer, and more.
David Washington would be flushed to his left, but flipped a short shovel pass to a waiting Melvin Vaughn who did the rest for a 15-yard touchdown pass 7-plays, and 75-yards after UTEP took the lead which put ODU back in front 17-13 with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
UTEP would be stopped on a fourth down try at the Old Dominion 32-yard line on the game’s ensuing possession, then ODU running back Ray Lawry put this one to bed.
Lawry would rumble 40-yards three plays later, breaking tackles and carrying a UTEP defender into the end zone to put the Monarchs up 24-13 just 45 seconds into the fourth quarter.
ODU would then put this one out of reach with a 77-yard reception by Jonathan Durhart that also saw him rack up 50 yards after the catch that set up by a 1-yard run by Ray Lawry putting the Monarchs ahead 31-13 with 12:05 left in the game.
A late Ryan Metz to Cole Freytag touchdown was primed by a nice 39-yard punt return by Terry Juniel, but with 1:24 left in the game, ODU was well on their way to a happy flight back home.
Lawry finished the night with 131 yards on the ground, and two touchdowns. Washington finished 14-for-22 for 262 yards passing, Duhart caught five passes for 155 yards.
UTEP ended the night with 337 total yards, but was 4-for-14 on third down conversions, and only averaged 3.8 yards per rushing attempt.
Metz went 21-for-36 passing for 202 yards, and a touchdown, but was also sacked twice and was a victim of a few key drops that stalled drives.
Aaron Jones ran for 92 yards, Cole Freytag added 84 yards receiving via seven catches. Hayden Plinke caught five balls for 53 yards.
It was another disappointing night in the Sun Bowl, with the wrong formula of success haunting UTEP into what is another losing season under Sean Kugler.