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QB Gavin Hardison’s career-high passing leads UTEP past Rice 38-28 for 7th win

UTEP celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Rice.
Rueben Ramairez/UTEP
UTEP celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Rice.

EL PASO, Texas - Gavin Hardison threw for a career-high 366 yards and Ron Awatt ran for 119 yards as UTEP defeated Rice 38-28 on Saturday and snapped a three-game losing streak.

Hardison completed 23 of 35 passes and threw for two touchdowns. Jacob Cowling caught a career-high 11 passes for 170 yards.

After trailing 21-14 at halftime, UTEP (7-4, 4-3 Conference USA) took control with a short field goal followed by a succession of 1-yard touchdown runs by Calvin Brownholtz, Quardraiz Wadley and again by Brownholtz.

UTEP outscored Rice 24-7 in the second half en route to posting seven victories in a season for only the seventh time in 53 years. UTEP compiled a season-high 488 yards of offense and tied its season high with 38 points.

“Gavin played his kind of game,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said.  “He was aggressive, we were attacking, he was making great plays, the receivers were making tremendous catches, [Gavin] was making really, really good throws and [we] just used a whole different element of our offense.  Tonight we put that out there and [we] were able to execute.  And we need to do that, because we’ve had some close, tough losses playing our brand of football.  This game we needed to be more aggressive, and the guys went out and played really aggressive and showed that they can have a different dimension to our offense.”

Rice (3-8, 2-5 C-USA) suffered its fourth consecutive loss.

The Miners got off to a fast start offensively, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive for the fourth time this season. UTEP moved 75 yards on nine plays and cashed in with a seven-yard TD pass from Hardison to Cowing.

The Owls tied it up with 10:13 remaining in the second quarter on a one-yard rushing score by Ali Broussard.

UTEP regained the lead, 14-7, when Hardison hooked up with Justin Garrett for a 14-yard score with 8:22 left in the period.

But Rice scored the final 14 points of the half.  The Owls knotted the score, 14-14, on a six-yard pass from Jake Constantine to Jack Bradley with 1:03 left in the period. 

Then, following an interception by Hardison, Rice got another opportunity with 30 seconds on the clock. Two long passes later, the Owls had their first lead of the game, 21-14, when Constantine connected with Cedrick Patterson for a 33-yard TD.

The Miners, however, started the second half with a flurry – 24 unanswered points.

UTEP had a first and goal at the one-yard line midway through the third quarter but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Gavin Baechle to draw within four (21-17).

But the Miners struck pay dirt on their next three offensive possessions.

Brownholtz powered in for the one-yard rushing score to regain the lead, 24-21.  The key play of the drive was a 65-yard pass from Hardison to Awatt on third and long.

Wadley got into the scoring act on “Senior Night” with a one-yard rushing TD, and Brownholtz added another short rushing score as the Miners built a 38-21 lead with 9:02 to go.

“I thought our defense, again, played really good throughout the whole game,” Dimel said.  “You’re going to give up a few plays.  The momentum kind of switched on the interception at the end of the second quarter when I was trying to be aggressive and get some points on the board because they got the ball to start the second half.  But again, even after all that, the defense comes out and plays a really good second half.” 

Jake Constantine threw two touchdown passes as the Owls scored 21 points in the second quarter to build their halftime lead. Constantine completed 14 of 25 passes for the Owls (3-8, 2-5), who have lost four in a row.

Constantine led Rice, completing 14 of 25 passes by throwing for 183 yards and two touchdowns. The Owls had 390 yards of total offense, with 207 coming in the first half.

The Miners will wrap up the 2021 regular season at UAB next Friday (Nov. 26) at noon MT. 

Associated Press

UTEP Athletics

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