EL PASO, Texas - The UTEP Miners found what they were missing the first two weeks of the season: the end zone.
UTEP (1-2) defeated the New Mexico State Aggies Saturday in the Sun Bowl 41-28, making this the fourth straight victory for the Miners in the Battle of I-10 series.
For a team who struggled to score more than a touchdown against its first two opponents, the Miners looked more than comfortable running into the end zone Saturday against New Mexico State.
"We had them on their heels in the first half. We were executing real well," UTEP head coach Mike Price said. "We're tough, we're aggressive and we have great character. We get up for every game."
The Miners set the tempo early in the first quarter when they opened the game with two scores on its two first possessions. The first score came after Richard Spencer intercepted a pass from New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Manley on the opening drive, which set up Miners offense on the NMSU 47-yard line. UTEP then ran the ball seven out of its first eight plays to finish the drive off with a one-yard touchdown from Josh Bell, giving them an early 7-0 lead.
"It is always good to set good plays on defense because it just changes the tempo and it really gets us going and allows us to start making big plays throughout the game," Spencer said about the first quarter interception.
The UTEP defense held the Aggies to five straight drives to four punts and one turnover.
"(The first five possessions) It was good. We were rolling and we were stopping them," Spencer said.
NMSU finally found its way into the end zone at the 3:05 mark of the second quarter off a 37-yard pass from Manley to Austin Franklin that put the NMSU down three possessions 27-7.
The Aggies found a rhythm through the air in the third quarter when Manley connected on a 47-yard pass to wide receiver Kemonte' Bateman that set them up at the one-yard line. After a stop on first down, running back Tiger Powell scored that put the Aggies down 27-14.
A series later, UTEP scored the fifth touchdown of the game on a three-play 54-yard series off a pass from Lamaison to tight end Craig Wenrick to make it 34-14.
NMSU scored on two more times and the Miners matched them on for one more of those touchdowns, but it was too little too late for the Aggies.
Lamaison had his best game of the year throwing for 300 yards on 21-of-32 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions. This one game against the Aggies surpasses his previous season total yards (256).
"We came out and we just executed out game plan. This is what we were trying to do the first two weeks and we just came out today and everything went well for us," Lamaison said.
Wide receiver Jordan Leslie was Lamaison favorite target on the night. He finished the game with seven receptions and a career-high 147 yards. Leslie is the first UTEP wide receiver to post touchdown catches in consecutive games since former UTEP wide receiver Kris Adams did it in 2010.
The running game for the Miners is what set the tempo on offense. The Miners rushed for a total of 177 yards behind Autrey Golden who rushed for 71 yards on 12 careers. Bell was the redzone back on the night. He scored twice and rushed for 30 yards on nine careers.
Next up for the Miners is showdown with Big 10 opponent the Wisconsin Badgers. UTEP faces them at 10 a.m. Sept. 22 in Madison, Wis.
Sal Guerrero may be reached at reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him via Twitter at @SalDGuerrero for all things UTEP sports. Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.