The Battle of I-10

 The Shovel and the Spittoon

The Shovel and the Spittoon

94 times New Mexico State and UTEP have tussled on the field; the series predates the highway it's now named for. The two schools are roughly 45 miles apart and play for two trophies, a shovel and a cup that looks like a spittoon. Two trophies that seem to embody the series fairly accurately, a game in the borderlands of the Southwest between two blue-collar programs. 

In 1914 the two schools would meet for the first time on the gridiron. Of course, back then it was New Mexico A&M and the State School of Mines and Metallurgy, which was established by the State of Texas in 1913. We can only hope that there were classes dedicated to forging swords. In 1914 the School of Mines and Metallurgy boasted a total of 27 students. New Mexico A&M, by the way, opened in 1890 and was set to graduate its first student in 1893, however that student, Sam Steel was murdered before he could get his diploma. College was a grind back then.

New Mexico A&M won the first matchup 19-7  in Las Cruces. The next two games were played in Las Cruces as well with each team getting a victory. World War I interrupted the series as World Wars are want to do. Four years later, in 1920, the series resumed, this time in El Paso for the first time. The Aggies dominated, starting a string of six years unbeaten against the School of Mines, going 5-0-1, including a 64-0 shellacking of Mines in 1922. 

 Mac Saxon

Mac Saxon

Momentum shifted back to El Paso beginning in 1927 as the Miners ran off seven straight, the longest streak in the series, thanks in part to the hiring of Mac Saxon. Saxon, a School of Mines assistant and former University of Texas quarterback coached the Miners for fourteen seasons. Saxon went 27-6-3 in his first four campaigns at the School of Mines. In 1937 Saxon led the Miners to their first-ever bowl appearance, a Sun Bowl matchup with Hardin Simmons.

Saxon led the Miners to 8 winning seasons and four one-loss campaigns. His 1930 went 7-1-1, beating Arizona State, New Mexico, New Mexico A&M, and Texas Tech while tying Arizona and losing to a one-loss Texas team.

Saxon coached UTEP first All-American selections, served as Athletic Director and coached the Miners basketball and baseball teams. Saxon went 7-3 against the Aggies, and he still holds the Miner record for most wins at UTEP with 66. 

The series would take another break during the outbreak of World War II when the rivalry resumed in 1946 New Mexico A&M beat the Miners in El Paso. The win would be the last Aggie victory until 1958. By then the School of Mines had become Texas Western and run off a 10-0-1 streak against their neighbors to the west including a 92-7 demolition in 1948.

 Warren Woodson

Warren Woodson

New Mexico A&M became New Mexico State in 1960, in the midst of an incredible run by head coach Warren Woodson. Woodson's teams went 24-7-1 from 1959 to 1961, including an undefeated 1960 season. Woodson was considered an offensive genius, credited for inventing to Wing-T and utilizing it to great success. Woodson coached in Las Cruces until 1967 and is by far the winningest coach in NMSU history at 63-36-3 with just three losing seasons during his tenure.  For comparison sake, NMSU, from has managed four winning seasons since. Some attribute the Aggie's misery to the "Woodson Curse."

Woodson had a contentious relationship with the administration in Las Cruces, so much so that the school enacted a policy that required all school employees to retire at age 65, whether the employee wanted to or not. The University just so happened to adopt the policy when Woodson was 64 years of age. Woodson's last game at New Mexico State was a 54-7 bludgeoning of in-state rival New Mexico. That offseason, after the University implemented its retirement policy, Woodson was "retired" by the school.  Some claim the Aggie's failures can be traced to that event. We don't know if it's true or not but we'd also rather not piss off the ghost of Coach Woodson so we'll sit this one out. There's a great deep dive on Woodson here. 

One fun piece of trivia is that during Woodson's run at New Mexico State, Texas Western hired one Oail Andrew Phillips to coach the Miners. You know him better as Bum. Phillips coached one season at Texas Western in 1962, going 4-5, before returning to East Texas as the head coach at Port Neches-Groves High School. In 1967 Texas Western became the University of Texas at El Paso or UTEP for short. 

The 70's and early 80's saw two four-game Aggie win streaks and an 8-1 overall edge. UTEP head coaches Bob Stull, and David Lee turned the tide, combining for five straight Miner wins from 1986 to 1990. Stull, UTEP's most successful coach in the modern era, never lost to the Aggies, outscoring his neighbors 120 to 42 in three games. 

New Mexico State and head coach Jim Hess would bounce back with four straight against the Miners to start the 90s. Since then the series has belonged to UTEP with fourteen wins to only four losses. UTEP's current streak sits at a eight. A win against the Aggies this year would prolong the record for the longest winning streak in the series. 

In spite of a ready-made in-state rival in the University of New Mexico, eight of the ten top attendance marks at Aggie Memorial Stadium involve the Miners. In 1998 and 1999 both schools boasted stadium attendance records for the Battle of I-10, Aggie Memorial fitting an additional 2,000 more fans than capacity. Three of the top ten crowds at the Sun Bowl were for New Mexico State. The only Miner opponent to appear in the top 10 more than once. 

New Mexico State relies heavily on Texas for players, UTEP, not so much. 27 players on the Aggie's 2015 were from Texas, nine more than were from New Mexico. UTEP 2015 roster included just two from New Mexico, one being Las Cruces' own Kavika Johnson.

The Battle of I-10 has carried on basically uninterrupted save the occasional World War since 1914. With the Sun Belt giving the Aggies the boot starting in 2017, New Mexico State's future in the FBS is tenuous. Unless a league like the Mountain West or CUSA expands due to dominoes falling in the Power 5 leagues, there isn't a natural fit of the Aggies. That may put the future of the rivalry in jeopardy. But that'll all work itself out, on September 23rd it's two teams for two trophies once again.

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Posted on August 29, 2016 and filed under Southwest Round-Up.