By Jerry Briggs
After the UTEP Miners escaped with a wild, 52-49 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners in five overtimes Saturday night, some of them streamed out onto the field at the Alamodome, waving their helmets and whooping it up in jubilation.
The Roadrunners, who had plenty of chances to win at home in front of a crowd of 23,633, could only shake their heads in frustration.
“It’s a tough one,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “It hurts. We went somewhere where we had not gone before, going four and five overtimes … The reality was, we had opportunities within regulation. We had opportunities in the second, third and fourth overtime, and we didn’t finish.”
In the fifth OT, UTSA had the ball first and failed to get a first down, settling for a Victor Falcon field goal and a 49-46 lead. It wasn’t enough. UTEP responded by covering the 25-yard distance in four plays, capped by a 6-yard scoring pass from Ryan Metz to Warren Redix.
Redix snared the pass on the side boundary and in the front corner of the end zone. It was ruled a touchdown, but officials checked the replay to determine whether he had possession of the ball as he hit the ground.
Upon review, the call was upheld, bringing to an end the longest game (by overtimes) in Conference USA history.
Metz threw for three touchdowns as UTEP (2-5, 1-3) snapped a five-game losing streak.
Aaron Jones caught two of the scoring throws and added another on the ground as the Miners, who rallied from 14 points down twice in regulation, also snapped a two-game winning streak for UTSA (3-4, 2-2).
In a game that lasted four hours and 20 minutes, UTSA safety Nate Gaines acknowledged that fatigue emerged as a factor as it went into the fourth and fifth extra periods.
“We were tired, but they were tired as well,” Gaines said. “At the end of the day, it’s whoever wants the game more. Tonight it was UTEP.”
UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm led the Roadrunners, passing for three touchdowns – two of them in overtime -- and running for another.
Afterward, he admitted that the loss would be a difficult one to accept heading into next week’s home game against North Texas.
“A loss like this is always going to be tough, a tough one to swallow,” said Sturm, who passed for 214 yards and rushed for 74. “We’ll get past it. (We’ll need to) tell the truth (in film study) tomorrow, watch the film, learn from the mistakes we made. We got to get ready for North Texas.”
Maybe the biggest mistake for UTSA was failing to capitalize on two 14-point leads in regulation.
Playing razzle-dazzle football, the Roadrunners scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game. But with a 14-0 lead, they started to break down defensively.
The Miners charged from behind to make it 14-14 in the second quarter, silencing the home crowd. Just after intermission, UTSA once again asserted itself, moving out to a 28-14 lead.
But UTEP, energized after an open date on the schedule last week, would not back down.
In perhaps the key sequence of the game, the Miners pieced together drives of 97 and 85 yards in the third quarter to tie it, 28-all.
Metz hit Aaron Jones with a 27-yard pass to cap the first drive.
The Miners played razzle-dazzle on the second one. Kavicka Johnson received a lateral pass on one side of the field, stopped and then threw back to the other side for Walter Down, who for a 74-yard TD reception.
“Like I said, it just came down to our missed assignments,” Gaines said. “They’re doing a lot of shifts, a lot of motions to get us splintered. They’re doing a great job of scheming us up.”
Even with the breakdowns, the Roadrunners should have been able to pull it out down the stretch.
Falcon misfired on a 51-yard field goal with three minutes left in regulation Jones dropped a pass from Sturm in the final minute that could have carried deep into UTEP territory.
Moving into overtime, both teams made brilliant plays and also plays that left their fans in despair.
The second and third OTs were classic, with the Roadrunners and Miners trading touchdowns in each period.
In the third OT, Sturm found Kerry Thomas with a 19-yard TD pass and then hit a 2-point conversion throw to Jones.
UTEP promptly matched it, with Down scoring again on a 12-yard run, followed by a clutch throw from Metz to Hayden Plinke for the conversion, making it 46-46.
Somehow, in the fourth overtime, both teams went scoreless.
First, UTSA stopped a drive when it recovered a UTEP fumble at the goal line. But on offense, the Roadrunners couldn’t convert. Falcon had a chance to win it with a field goal but hooked a 42-yarder, his third miss of the night.
In the fifth extra period, UTSA got the ball first, ran two plays and lost five yards. But Sturm, facing third ad 15, got loose around the perimeter. He nearly picked up the first down but came up a yard short, setting up Falcon’s 32-yard field goal for a 49-46 lead.
From there, Jones and Metz worked their magic to finish off UTSA.
Jones, who rushed for 113 yards and totaled 56 as a receiver, ran for eight yards. He hit the middle for another six and a first down. Down, finding a gap on another reverse, weaved five yards to the UTSA 6.
At that point, Metz rolled to his right and threw to Redix in the front corner of the end zone for the game winner.
“It just shows how resilient these kids are,” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “They really made a commitment (for the) second half of the season … They didn’t quit when they were sitting at 1-5. (They) had the best week of practice. They came out energized.”
Turning point: Trailing by 14 points, UTEP manufactured its two best drives of the night late in the third quarter. One covered 97 yards and the other 85. Both ended in touchdowns, which tied the score going into the fourth period.
A 54-yard pass from Metz to Plinke highlighted the first drive.
Metz finished it with a 27-yard TD throw to Jones. On the next series, the Miners pulled off some trickery. Kavicka Johnson caught a lateral pass, stopped and threw back to Down, who streaked though the UTSA secondary for a 74-yard TD.
Notes: UTSA fell to 2-2 in overtime games in its six-year football history. The Roadrunners won 30-27 in single OT last year at Charlotte. In 2011, they lost 30-27 in double OT at home to South Alabama. Three weeks later, they won 17-14 in single OT at home against Georgia State.
Receiver Kerry Thomas Jr. registered a game-high five pass receptions to go along with career bests of 89 yards and two touchdowns. With the effort, he became the program’s all-time TD receptions leader (with nine) and tied the school’s single-season TD receptions record (five).
UTSA attempted its first ever fake field goal, which was lined up from 50 yards on fourth and 10, and it resulted in a 30-yard pass from holder Yannis Routsas to lineman Jarrod McLin, setting up UTSA’s first touchdown.
Running back Jarveon Williams capped the drive with a touchdown pass to tight end Shaq Williams. With the throw, Williams became the third UTSA player to throw a TD pass this year, joining Sturm and Brady Jones. Jones, a wideout, threw a TD pass to Jared Johnson at Old Dominion.
Coming up: North Texas warmed up for next week’s game at UTSA with a 35-18 road victory at Army. North Texas (5-3, 2-1) has won two in a row and three out of four under first-year coach Seth Littrell.
Playing as an 18-point underdog on Army’s home field, the Mean Green rode the play of running back Jeffrey Wilson, who rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns on only 15 carries. North Texas picked off three passes, including two by Eric Jenkins.
Kickoff between North Texas and UTSA is set for 6 p.m. next Saturday at the Alamodome.