UTSA Roadrunners (16) vs UTEP Miners, Sat, 11/6/2021, 8:25pm
Final Score: UTSA 44 – UTEP 23; Attendance: 31,658
Weather: Sunny, 70’s; Ticket: $30; Parking: $20
Review: In retrospect, not that great
The Miners campus is in El Paso, which, by itself, is surprisingly scenic. The climate is temperate for fall football and the campus is accessible. Flying into El Paso is easy enough, but it is a small airport so your flight options may be limited. It is a long drive from any city of size – think middle of nowhere. Las Cruces is just up the road and offers a unique double weekend opportunity with New Mexico State. There are a number of college bars next to campus. Be warned, however, that these are definitely for the younger crowd. I am a little long in the tooth for the club type atmosphere and I felt as out of place as nun in a whore house. Usually, there’s at least a couple of chill bars that cater a bit more to alums. I did not see much of that.
UTEP popularity ebbs and flows with the success of the team, which for a long time was a bottom ten perennial. This means the tailgating is very accessible. There was limited signage to get to the tailgating lots and even when I asked two separate attendants they didn’t know how to actually get into a secondary lot. They would point to the lot, which I could see, but when I drove up to the entrances, they were all roped off with no attendants. It turned out that there was only one entrance, and it was the long way around off the main drag to get into it. A nice thing about UTEP is that you can buy spots online in advance for a reasonable amount ($20). I, of course, waited too long and the best sites right next to Sun Bowl were sold out. However, with an early arrival, there were some cash spots available. The folks who I was tailgating with were kind enough to handle the set up while I was at NMSU. They did choose a quieter, family type lot. The tailgating was okay. I would say there was a tailgate every 5 – 6 spots. Not bad, but a little quiet for my taste.
It was still a good time. The folks were friendly and happy to swap stories about UTEP. It was still only $20 to park on game day. I did get to briefly check out the lots next to the stadium. They were packed and rocking. They had set up an ACDC cover band. It was obvious they were playing tunes from my generation given the age of the folks surrounding the band. It wasn’t the dance of the living dead, but it was not packed with college students either. Having been drinking for some time, we weren’t at our sharpest and headed to the stadium about 45 minutes too soon. I recall sitting in the stadium watching the teams warm up and thinking that I have never been in a stadium that early. Turns out that was a good thing. The tailgate lot next to stadium had degraded into debauchery and some dangerous behavior. A review of Reddit the following week had videos of both fans having sex in the back of a truck and bottles/cans being lobbed from one end of the lot to other. It is easy to avoid fights at a tailgating, but dodging random alcoholic projectiles – not so much.
The Miners play in the Sun Bowl. Surrounded by mountains, aesthetically this is one of the more unique stadiums. It is medium in size, seating about 50,000. This was a big game with UTSA coming in undefeated and ranked 16 in the nation. Depending on how you score it, the game was a sell-out at ~30k given that the one end zone was fully covered up. It was a loud environment for at least the start of the game. The biggest tradition is their pickaxe hand sign which is very similar to the shaka symbol. The fans make a pickaxe sign and then wave their hands in a motion very similar to the tomahawk chop. There’s “UTEP”, then “Miners” back and forth cheer. Nothing special, but not bad in a full stadium. In another ‘80s flashback, the Miner fans like to do the “Wave.”
There’s only one video scoreboard, but the resolution was pretty good. There are supplemental smaller scoreboards with stats. We were on the 40-yard line about 20 seats up. They were reasonable at $30. Since the game was a sell-out, there were some scalpers pushing tickets outside the stadium. Normally, these are not difficult tickets to buy from conventional sources. With a stadium of this size, you won’t struggle to see the game from wherever you are sitting. The stadium itself feels old on the inside with a small concession ring. The food selection was pretty good. They did not offer a souvenir cup, but the marquee was suspiciously covered up in one spot which indicated to me that they would normally have souvenir cups but were either unprepared or got impacted by the pandemic supply chain. It was one more indicator that the UTEP experience was not exactly ready to be prime time.
UTEP, sadly, was coming off a loss for this game at 6-2. Had they beaten UAB the week before, the Miners would have likely hosted ESPN Game Day with their undefeated rival Roadrunners coming to town. Even with the loss, I was hopeful the Miners would be fired up and give UTSA all they could handle. It did not work out that way. On the second play from scrimmage, UTSA ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run. UTEP did a three and out on the next series and the Roadrunners drove down and kicked a field goal. The Miners then had another three and out. UTSA then hits another field goal so at least the UTEP defense was not giving up TDs. Perhaps this inspired their offense because they then drove down and scored on a 35-yard pass. Even though the kick failed, it was enough to keep the fan base fired up. This time the defense responded, holding the Roadrunners on a third and five at the UTSA 46. Unfortunately, in a game where the Miners needed to play to near perfection, they jumped offside on the punt. This kept the UTSA drive alive and they scored another field goal.
At the end of the quarter, it was 16 – 6 UTSA, but UTEP was in it. Their first drive sputtered at the UTSA 20, and they missed the field goal. The Roadrunners answered with a touchdown and the crowd got quiet. I was thinking even at 23-6, if the Miners can score a TD on their next drive they still had a chance. Instead, they teased the locals with a couple of first downs before punting. At least they had UTSA pinned on their 20 yard-line with less than three minutes until halftime. Alas, the Roadrunners had found their two-minute offense and scored a touchdown with 27 seconds left. Credit to UTEP, they put together a “perils of Pauline” type drive to hit a field goal as the half expired. With UTEP getting the ball for the start of the second half, I saw the Miner faithful muttering that they still had a chance.
The third quarter started promising enough. The Miners drove down, getting a first and goal from the seven. They managed to get to the four yard-line but being down by 21 they had to go for it. They did not make it. When the Roadrunners turned the next drive into six, the game was effectively over before the fourth quarter even started. The Miners may have been outplayed, but at least they looked good in all orange uniforms.
Initially, it was hard to figure out how to characterize a visit to UTEP. When I was in the midst of it, I was having a pretty good time. The tailgating was okay and the bar scene, if I was younger, would have been great. The famous Chicos Tacos did not disappoint either and there is no denying that visually the Sun Bowl is stunning. But as I was preparing this review, I started recalling some of the negatives of the experience. Getting to the tailgate lots was frustrating and in hindsight, we were lucky we went to the stadium when we did, lest we get hit in the head with a full beer can. The fans were great, but it was telling when one of the guys joked that when you do the wave in the stadium, keep one hand on your wallet. Funny, but there was a some reality to that. The game was pretty much a bust. If you have seen my review of Clemson, you know I don’t give a lot of points for teams that don’t show up for big games. This game was a big as it gets for UTEP and they did not represent.
During the rout, err game, United Airlines informed me that my flight on Sunday was cancelled. After a half hour, it was clear that my only option was a 5am flight out. Given that it was now midnight, I told my buddy, I was fine going back to the bars because there wasn’t much reason to go to sleep. We went to the bars for a couple of hours, where I concluded that I was way too old for this. As we left, a relatively mild fight broke out. Then, when we went to our rental car, I discovered it had a boot on it. Apparently, we missed the small sign at the entrance saying that you couldn’t park in that plaza after it closed. Yes, it was my fault, but there was no signage in front of the closed Subway where we parked and there was a truck in the spot next to us when we parked. It seemed reasonable that we could park there. After an unsuccessful argument with the Plaza property manager and $170 later, we were on the road. It was clearly a nice little money maker for the plaza. The topper was the $200 tip the one bar wrote for themselves on a $9 bar tab. This, I discovered, once I got my credit card bill.
UTEP was the gift that just kept giving. I was lucky to have friends with me who made the experience enjoyable. Absent them, and it would have been a frustrating trip. Hell, it was a frustrating trip anyway. At the end of day, UTEP was more trouble than it was worth.