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Aggies win third straight ‘Battle of I-10’

The New Mexico State Aggies get to keep the Silver Spade.

NMSU (2-9) continued its winning streak yesterday with a third straight football victory over rival UTEP (1-10) in the Battle of I-10. The Aggies won, 44-35, in their last home game of the season. This is their longest win streak in the series since they won four in a row against the Miners from 1992–95.

The NMSU Aggies line up against the UTEP Miners during the “Battle of I-10” rivalry game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, at Aggie Memorial Stadium. The Aggies went on to win the game 44-35. (Photo by Olivia Belcher/Kokopelli)

The game kicked off under clear skies at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

The Aggies won the coin toss and elected to receive on the opening kick. The teams traded the lead back and forth throughout the entire game before an announced crowd of 21,584.

NMSU running back Jason Huntley scored the first touchdown of the game on a 39-yard run with nine minutes left in the first quarter. The Aggies were able to hold the Miners through the first quarter until UTEP running back Treyvon Hughes scored a touchdown in the second quarter bringing the score to a tie, 7-7.

The Miners scored a pair of field goals before Huntley scored his second touchdown of the game in the final minute of the second quarter on a 53-yard run, putting NMSU in the lead, 14-13, going into halftime.

It was “Senior Night” at Aggie Memorial Stadium. Twenty-five Aggie football players, a Sundancer, two Aggie cheerleaders and 13 Aggie marching band members — all seniors — were honored on the field. Both the NMSU and UTEP marching bands performed during halftime for an enthusiastic crowd. It was the Marching Miners’ last performance of the 2019 season, and the NMSU “Pride” band’s 100th “Battle of I-10” performance.

Aggie linebacker Matthew Young, right, celebrates with teammate Roy Lopez in the end zone after Young scooped up a fumble and ran it 19 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Photo by Olivia Belcher/Kokopelli)

Coming back from halftime, UTEP made a field goal with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter, putting the Miners briefly in the lead.

The Aggies responded on the next drive when Huntley found the end zone for the third time, giving the Aggies a 21-16 lead.

On UTEP’s next possession, the Miners scored a touchdown on the last play of the third quarter, regaining the lead, 22-21. The Miners attempted a two-point conversion, but it failed.

NMSU didn’t let the Miners keep the lead for long. Aggie quarterback Josh Adkins scored a seven-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a trick play to give the Aggies a 27-22 lead. NMSU’s two-point conversion attempt failed.

The two teams each punted the ball before NMSU linebacker Rashie Hodge, Jr intercepted a pass at midfield. It was only the fifth interception UTEP quarterback Kai Locksley has thrown all season.

NMSU kicker Dylan Brown followed Hodge’s interception with a career-long 53-yard field goal on fourth down, giving the Aggies a 30-22 lead with 6:26 remaining in the game.

Aggie fans ring their cowbells on third down during Saturday’s game against the UTEP Miners at Aggie Memorial Stadium. The Aggies went on to win the game 44-35 in front of an announced crowd of 21,584. (Photo by Olivia Belcher/Kokopelli)

NMSU head coach Doug Martin indicated after the game he was hesitant to let Brown attempt a field goal from midfield. “I was not going to kick a field goal because of the distance and Dylan missed one earlier in the game, but he swore up and down he would make it. I give all the credit to [NMSU special teams coordinator] Ronnie Pentz because he talked me into that one,” Martin said.

It seemed as though both teams had already given their all, but they were just warming up. The fourth quarter turned into a shootout with both teams managing to score two touchdowns each in the last six minutes of the game.

Aggie linebacker Matthew Young scooped up a UTEP fumble and ran 19 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 37-22 lead with 5:30 remaining. UTEP scored a minute later, making the score 37-29.

Then, with just under three minutes left in the game, Aggie running back Christian Gibson broke a tackle and ran 53 yards down the UTEP sideline for a touchdown to make the score 44-29.

UTEP did not go down without a fight, however, scoring a final touchdown as time expired in the 2019 Battle of I-10. The final score: 44-35.

NMSU wide receiver OJ Clark had a team-high nine receptions for 72 yards on the afternoon, but it was graduating senior Jason Huntley who carried the Aggies to victory with a career-high 191 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The performance broke Huntley’s own career-high performance of 174 rushing yards last weekend against University of the Incarnate Word. “The last two home games I wanted to make sure I went out the right way. To have two career games back-to-back is lovely,” Huntley said.

NMSU head coach Doug Martin sounded pleased with the Aggies’ performance. “The last two years have been frustrating. We have had to overcome hurdles with injuries and things like that. We really should have a couple more wins, but I like where the program is at. We have a group of kids who fight their tails off every Saturday,” Martin said.

UTEP head coach Dana Dimel indicated the loss was hard to take. “All losses are hard, and in a rivalry game they’re even harder. Wherever there is a rivalry game it means so much to win it, so it hurts just as bad to lose it … it is a very painful loss for us,” Dimel said.

Dimel did speak highly of Aggie running back Jason Huntley. “Both teams played so hard. Huntley is a very good football player and we knew that going in, and he just made some plays with his feet,” Dimel said.

The Aggies will be looking for their third victory when they take on Liberty University Nov. 30 in Lynchburg, Virginia, to close out NMSU’s 2019 season. The game will air on ESPN+. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m.

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