Michigan vs Ohio State. Alabama vs Auburn. Oklahoma vs Texas. These are the games that come to mind when discussing ‘Bucket List’ college football rivalry games. But about the ‘Battle of I-10’ between the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State? It features two schools separated by less than 50 miles that met on the gridiron almost annually since 1914. Does that pique your interest? It should and definitely did for me.
The 98th meeting between UTEP and NMSU took place in Las Cruces, NM at Aggie Memorial Stadium during Week Zero, the trimmed-down opening weekend for college football. The excitement was palpable, as both fan bases relished the opportunity to watch live action once again. UTEP had 4 COVID cancellations in 2020 and NMSU did not play in 2020 at all (they instead played two FCS opponents in the Spring of this year).
Pregame featured a ton of festivities to take in. The bands battled for supremacy in the parking lot during a joint pep rally. There was a Bounce House for kids, lots of communal tents with barbequing and Army recruiters set up a climbing wall for fans to test their strength.
The most captivating event however was a best of three wrestling match series in-ring set up right next to the stadium. Each match featured a UTEP wrestler vs an NMSU wrestler. It was classic WWE drama and the audience was captivated by what that witnessed. The home NMSU fans booed the UTEP wrestlers were angered when the ref got distracted and it affected their team’s wrestler. One fan got into the action by restraining the UTEP wrestler’s arms while the NMSU wrestler slapped him across the chest. In predictable fashion, UTEP won the first match, but the final two matches were NMSU wins giving them the edge 2-1 in the series. Such a cool activity that I never knew I wanted pregame until I saw it firsthand.
The fans' enthusiasm made its way inside Aggie Memorial Stadium as well. No attendance restrictions were in place and UTEP had great representation with the short commute from El Paso. I had a unique experience being able to sit in the UTEP athletic director’s private box during the game. I was fortunate enough to win an auction and met UTEP AD Jim Senter and President Heather Wilson. I only stayed in the box for a short amount of time however because (a) I didn’t want to distract them from the game, and (b) I enjoy being in the stands more anyway. It was still a great thrill to meet them in person.
This was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen the President of #UTEP, @HeatherAnWilson, do ! The students & @UTEPFB players went wild when they saw Dr. W climbing up into the stands to join in on the celebration! #UTEPMiners #ElPaso #Battleofi10 #UTEPvsNMSU pic.twitter.com/YPlnAi6w73— Ivan Pierre Aguirre (@i_p_a_1) August 30, 2021
As for the game itself, UTEP dominated from start to finish. They led 20-3 at halftime and tacked on 10 more points in the second half to win 30-3. Despite the game being non-competitive, the crowd was having a great time and were really enjoying themselves. The video board asked for ‘more cowbell’ and the fans obliged. The interactions I had were phenomenal and everyone was grateful to have some semblance of ‘normalcy’ again.
This game marked my 111th FBS Stadium game, out of a total of 130 FBS schools. When I added it to my schedule in the off-season, I really did know much about the history of this rivalry. After experiencing the ‘Battle of I-10’ for myself, I can attest to being a rivalry game that all college fans should prioritize to see at least once in their lives. My fondness for UTEP’s stadium, The Sun Bowl, is not a secret and I’m looking forward to seeing this rivalry played there in the near future. Until then, it’s on to Stadium Game #112…