ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Aaron Jones ran for a career-best 237 yards and three touchdowns to lead UTEP to a 31-24 victory over New Mexico in Saturday's season opener for both teams.
Jones scored his final touchdown with 2:18 remaining to break a 24-all tie after Lobos' punt returner Dameon Gamblin muffed a punt at the 6-yard line.
The Miners built a 24-7 halftime lead behind two of Jones' scores, including a 73-yarder.
"It was fun," said Jones, who was briefly recruited by New Mexico.
"When you're clicking on high cylinders, everything is fun. When you get the win, it's fun."
And it's especially fun to foil the Lobos, he said.
"They called me and told me my senior year that they were going to do an in-home visit and they never showed up," Jones said. "They called and told me when they were coming, my mom cooked and they never showed up. So I have to take it to them."
Although the Miners used a revamped offensive line, they were able to pile up the yardage on the ground, especially in the first half when they compiled 227 of their 330 rushing yards.
"I was very proud of the young offensive line," said head coach Sean Kugler. "Four guys that never started before. That was their first game as collegiate players and they got it after it. They played physical like we expected them to play."
"And it helped to have a back like Jones to burst through the holes," he said.
"I think he's a special back," Kugler added.
New Mexico rallied in the second half behind quarterback Cole Gautsche, who ran for a career-best 184 yards and two touchdowns. But he went out with an injury, pulling up lame on a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The Lobos' defense came up with a stop on fourth and goal from the 1 before Gautsche's carry took them to midfield. New Mexico finished off the drive with a 35-yard field goal from Zack Rogers to tie it at 24.
But New Mexico turned it over in its last three possessions in the final six minutes of the game.
"They made some big plays," Kugler said of his defense. "When the game was in the balance, they made sacks, made the interception. It was a true team win. Special teams came up with a huge play at the end of the game to give us the ball in enemy territory and the offense pounded it in."
But the coach said he felt the team was going to come through.
"Even when New Mexico started getting the momentum there in the fourth quarter, looking around the sidelines, everybody's eyes were focused," Kugler said.
"Those kids were not going to lose that game. They were going to find a way to win it."