10:30 PM ET, August 31, 2006
Qualcomm Stadium, SAN DIEGO, CA
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Texas-El Paso coach Mike Price stepped out of the victorious locker room and let out a loud sigh of relief.
"An exhale that could be heard all the way back in Texas," Price joked.
Quintin Demps' interception midway through the fourth quarter helped douse a wild San Diego State rally and the Miners won 34-27 Thursday night to spoil Chuck Long's coaching debut with the Aztecs.
With UTEP leading 27-24, Demps, 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. Palmer also threw four interceptions.
"It had to have been an exciting game to watch, but I thought it was a really good character-builder for us," Price said. "We didn't panic. Jordan came back and got back on track."
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.
The Aztecs were booed a handful of times in the first half.
"We'll get to the point where they'll be behind you 100 percent," Long said. "You don't ever want to hear the boos. We'll change that mind-set."
Price got the season going the way he wanted. 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.
He was hurt on his second-to-last play. On his last play, O'Connell 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 19-of-28 for 205 yards.
The Aztecs intercepted Palmer on three straight drives, helping set up their final two scores. One of Palmer's interceptions was tipped, and cornerback Donny Baker had two sideline pickoffs that were reviewed.
"I felt I was playing well, running the offense well," Palmer said. "It was humbling but at the same time it was good. The good thing is the mistakes we made were correctable. We didn't do anything that was just flat out dumb."
The Miners also committed zero penalties.
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.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-10||9-19|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0||2-2|
|FG||6:33||GARRETT PALMER 46 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 52 yards.
|TD||11:50||JAMAR HUNT 13 YD PASS FROM JORDAN PALMER (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 71 yards.
|TD||7:50||MARCUS THOMAS 5 YD RUN (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 36 yards.
|TD||10:01||JOHNNIE LEE HIGGINS 11 YD PASS FROM JORDAN PALMER (MISSED KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 41 yards.
|TD||8:29||ALFONSO AUELUA 0 YD OFFENSIVE FUMBLE RETURN (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)||27||3|
|TD||3:26||DARREN MOUGEY 1 YD RUN (GARRETT PALMER KICK)|
Drive info: 13 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||14:56||DARREN MOUGEY 14 YD RUN (GARRETT PALMER KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 62 yards.
|TD||10:44||LYNELL HAMILTON 1 YD RUN (GARRETT PALMER KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 26 yards.
|TD||4:38||JAKE SEARS 7 YD PASS FROM JORDAN PALMER (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 28 yards.
|FG||1:59||GARRETT PALMER 35 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 65 yards.