New Mexico Bowl: Hobbs alum Hardison can make personal, UTEP history - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Bowl: Hobbs alum Hardison can make personal, UTEP history

UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison (12) looks downfield while coming under pressure by the Boise State defensive tackle Michael Callahan (92) during action on Sept. 10. Hardison, from Hobbs, can help UTEP football make bowl history if the Miners can upset Fresno State in Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

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UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison, a Hobbs High alumnus who played one year at New Mexico Military Institute, is 34 yards away from becoming the fifth Miner to throw for 3,000 or more yards.

But there is a larger opportunity looming when UTEP (7-5) plays against 11½-point favorite Fresno State (9-3) in the 16th annual PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium on Saturday.

The Miners, who have lost their last six bowl games, are seeking their first postseason victory since defeating Mississippi, 14-7, in the 1967 Sun Bowl.

“We all have that in the back of our minds that UTEP hasn’t done it in a while,” Hardison said after practice on Thursday. “That will be big for us to bring back a bowl win to El Paso.”

Hardison has been a big part of the Miners’ turnaround season. UTEP went 3-5 in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season. The Miners broke through with seven wins in a season this year for just the seventh time in 53 years, and for the 19th time in 104 years of football.

UTEP finished fourth in Conference USA’s Western Division and notched four C-USA victories for the fourth time since joining the league in 2005.

Hardison was one of 13 Miners recognized as All-C-USA Honorable Mention.

He stepped up his level of play over the past six games, averaging 283.3 yards passing with nine touchdown passes. His 1,700 passing yards are the most by a Miner in a six-game stretch since Trevor Vittatoe threw for 2,073 yards over the final six games of the 2009 season.

Hardison said he became excited when he got the news that UTEP would play in the New Mexico Bowl. He said he has family, friends and former high school coaches coming to see him play in Albuquerque.

“It was exciting for me, but I think it was exciting for everyone on our team,” Hardison said about playing in the New Mexico Bowl. “We’re blessed to go to a bowl game. That was one of our goals so we got that accomplished. We’re all excited.”

Of course, the big name on the UTEP offense is wide receiver Jacob Cowing, a sophomore who is sixth in the nation and No. 2 in C-USA with 1,330 yards receiving on 67 catches. Cowing, a first-team All-Conference USA selection, has tied a school record with 13 100-yard games during his career. His 1,330 yards in 2021 also ranks second-best all-time during a single season in school history.

Hardison is just happy to get the ball to Cowing. The redshirt sophomore quarterback said the Miners have several playmakers on offense.

He’s one of them.

“We’ve just been executing,” Hardison said. “When our offense is clicking, everyone is just rolling. We’re just rolling on all cylinders.”

ANOTHER BIG GAME: Hardison said he has been following NMMI this season. The Broncos (11-1) will play in their first National Junior College Athletic Association Division I title game on Friday against Iowa Western (10-0) at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network at 6 p.m.

“I’m super excited for them and I hope they come back with the ‘natty’,” Hardison said. “I’m happy for the players and all the coaches.”

Hardison said NMMI was important to him and helped him get to the next level at UTEP.

“At NMMI, you have to be really disciplined with the military environment there,” Hardison said. “Playing there elevated my football career. I was able to play against some great competition. Playing against tough competition elevated my game.”

NEW MEXICO CONNECTIONS: UTEP has two more players who are New Mexico natives, including senior fullback Forrest McKee, who played high school football at then-Oñate in Las Cruces. Long snapper Connor Villalpando, who is redshirting this season, is from Roswell, where he played at Goddard High.

On Fresno State, freshman tight end Tre Watson was a standout at Cleveland High. He has eight catches for 93 yards this season. Senior offensive lineman Jalen Guerrero is also back in his home state, as he played for New Mexico State and Mayfield High in Las Cruces.

DICKERSON: Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson is the keynote speaker at the New Mexico Bowl luncheon at Isleta Resort & Casino on Friday.

Tickets are sold out for the event due to capacity restrictions at Isleta.

Dickerson’s 2,105 yards rushing in 1984 remains the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season.

Home » From the newspaper » New Mexico Bowl: Hobbs alum Hardison can make personal, UTEP history

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