JACKSONVILLE, Alabama (KVIA) -- College football is officially back. The UTEP Miners began their season playing new FBS and CUSA program, Jacksonville State. But for the second straight season the Miners lose their season opener to a conference opponent.
At Jacksonville St., the Miners with less than 2-minutes on the clock fail to convert at 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1, seemingly handing the Gamecocks a 17-14 win - their first at the FBS level.
The goal going into the game was to score early and use their defense to apply pressure but only one of those two things came to fruition.
During the Gamecocks first drive of the game, defensive end Praise Amaewhule sacked Zion Webb on third down.
Gavin Hardison in his first drive of the game threw a 49-yard dime to Kelly Akharaiyi in the end zone for a touchdown, but the play was called back for an incompletion. Just two plays later on 4th down and 2, Hardison was sacked. So what looked like a 95-yard scoring drive to start the game ended in a turnover on downs.
Jacksonville State got a field goal off the back of that with 4:57 left in the 1st quarter. In the 2nd quarter with 13:26 left Ron Wiggins would extend the lead out to 10-0 off a 4-yard run into the end zone.
UTEP struggled to find momentum in the 2nd quarter with freshman kicker Buzz Flabiano missing his first career field goal and then later Gavin Hardison got strip sacked.
The Miner defense was the only thing keeping the deficit at 10. They forced a couple of 3-and-outs which gave Hardison and company one last opportunity.
With 2-minutes on the clock before halftime, the Miners found life. They went 9 plays and 74-yards with Deion Hankins punching it in from one-yard out to put the Miners on the board.
At the half UTEP trailed 10-7 but had all the momentum and got the ball back to start the third. But Hardison threw for an INT allowing Jax State right back into the game.
With 7:47 left in the third, Malik Jackson ran it in from 7-yards out to give the Gamecocks a 17-7 lead.
But with 12:19 left in the fourth, Akharaiyi gets redemption, catching a 36-yard pass from Hardison to bring them within three again. The score capped off a 4 minute drive, with 8 plays and 74-yards.
The Miners had their chances to win or tie the game but instead on both 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 with less than two minutes to go, they chose to throw the ball. The first ended in an incompletion from Akharaiyi in the end zone. The second ended in an interception from Al Harris.
Hardison's two interceptions, the strip-sack, turnover on downs after being sacked and the Flabiano missed field goal proved crucial in the Miners Week 0 loss.