UTEP Spoils Long’s Debut With Aztecs
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Quintin Demps’ interception midway through the fourth quarter helped douse a wild San Diego State rally and Texas-El Paso won 34-27 Thursday night to spoil Chuck Long’s coaching debut with the Aztecs.
With UTEP leading 27-24, the free safety stepped in front of a pass from Aztecs backup quarterback Darren Mougey to Matthew Kawulok with 7:26 left. Demps’ second pickoff of the night, followed by a 23-yard return, helped set up Jordan Palmer’s third TD pass of the night, a 7-yard to tight end Jake Sears with 4:38 left.
Mougey replaced injured starter Kevin O’Connell with the Aztecs trailing 27-3 midway through the third quarter and led them on three straight scoring drives, including two touchdown runs of his own.
SDSU’s Garrett Palmer kicked a 35-yard field goal with 1:59 left.
Long was hired last December after the Aztecs finished 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the seventh straight year. A star quarterback at Iowa in the mid-1980s, he had spent the previous 11 seasons as an assistant coach, five with the Hawkeyes and six with Oklahoma.
UTEP coach Mike Price got the start he was hoping for. Although the Miners posted consecutive 8-4 seasons under Price, they lost their last three games of 2005, including a blowout loss to Toledo in the GMAC Bowl.
The Aztecs went nowhere behind O’Connell, who was knocked out with a right thumb injury midway through the third quarter.
On O’Connell’s last play of the night, he lost his grip on the ball while trying to pump-fake and fumbled, with Alfonso Auelua recovering in the end zone for a touchdown and a 27-3 UTEP lead.
That’s when Mougey came on and made it interesting, leading the Aztecs to 21 straight points in 12:45.
Mougey scored on a 1-yard run with 3:26 left in the third and on a 14-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Lynell Hamilton scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 10:44 left to pull the Aztecs to 27-24.
Mougey completed 12 of 16 passes for 178 yards and gained 41 yards on 13 carries.
Palmer, the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, was intercepted four times, twice by cornerback Donny Baker. Palmer was 19-of-28 for 205 yards.
The Aztecs intercepted Palmer on three straight drives, helping set up their final two scores.
Palmer threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jamar Hunt early in the second quarter and Marcus Thomas scored on an 8-yard run to give UTEP a 14-3 lead.
The Miners made it 20-3 on Palmer’s 11-yard pass to Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr., capping a drive set up when Demps intercepted O’Connell.
Palmer missed field goal attempts of 52 and 47 yards in the first half after making a 46-yarder on the Aztecs’ first drive of the game.
UTEP’s Reagan Schneider missed a 36-yard field goal attempt on the game’s first drive.