Last Monday afternoon, UTEP head coach Sean Kugler called the matchup with the Army Black Knights “a special game for not only our football team and our program, but also the community”. It was supposed to be a celebration of what our military does to protect this country and for the city of El Paso to say thank you.
As the countdown to kickoff drew closer, you could feel that vibe in the air on a warm, comfortable Saturday evening. After a beautiful pregame ceremony, which included a flyover by two Apache helicopters, UTEP and Army kicked off what was expected to be a tough and very entertaining football game.
What started as a celebration turned very quickly into a rout, as the Black Knights ran up and down on the Miners’ defense for a 66-14 victory. The game didn’t even feel that close. But, the night was still very special for everyone involved in the sense that everyone came together.
During the summer months leading up to this game, UTEP promoted this game as “One City, One Team.” The intent was to honor the military for the service and locally thank the soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss, one of the largest Army bases in the country. That slogan was on full display Saturday.
As the Miners and Black Knights took the field, both teams were greeted warmly by the 37,893 in the Sun Bowl. The bands from UTEP and Fort Bliss played together. Following that ceremony, the next group of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen all took their oath of enlistment. It was a celebration, and a wonderful way to honor those who are currently serving and those who have served.
On the field, Army came together and put up a dominant performance that won’t be forgotten for a long time. The Black Knights were playing with a heavy heart after losing teammate Brandon Jackson in a car accident last Sunday. The memory of “B-Jack” was strong on the gold helmets, the drums of the Army band and in the stadium, where he was remembered with a moment of silence before the game.
In their first trip to El Paso since the 1988 Sun Bowl, they turned in a simply special performance. Army finished with 424 yards rushing on the night and dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 41:40. They committed only two penalties and went 10-12 on third down. The Miners defense had absolutely no answer for the triple option while the offense could only sit and watch it unfold from the sideline.
For UTEP, there are going to be a lot of things to clean up with the conference opener against Southern Miss looming next week. But for Army, this win adds to a hot start of one of the best stories in college football so for this season. The Black Knights are 3-0 for the first time in 20 years. That year, they won nine straight games to start the season. Can they keep it up? Only time will tell.