Tulsa rallies from 14-point deficit, tops UTEP

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Alain Karatepeyan ran in on the blitz, got in UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer's face and then heard the crowd erupt. That's when the game had turned around for Tulsa.

Karatepeyan's pressure set up Chris Chamberlain's 25-yard interception to cap the Golden Hurricane's comeback from a 14-point, second-half deficit in a 30-20 victory over UTEP on Friday night.

"I knew something was going good, I turned around and saw Chris running into the end zone and I just went crazy," Karatepeyan said.

Karatepeyan hit Palmer as he tried to throw to Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr. on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Chamberlain took it back for his first career touchdown.

"We knew we had to get pressure on him. He's a great quarterback when he sits there and has time," Chamberlain said. "They did a great job protecting him through the first half. We knew if we just kept at it, we'd come up and make a play."

Chamberlain, making his third straight start after coming off the bench in Tulsa's first five games, also broke up a fake field-goal attempt by the Miners (4-4, 2-2 Conference USA) in the first half.

"That was good for him to get in there, and I think the old Chambo is back," Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "That was a great play on his part at the end. It was a huge momentum play in the game."

Courtney Tennial dove over the pile from a yard out to stretch Tulsa's lead to 30-20 with 8:40 to play, and the Golden Hurricane (7-1, 4-0) held on to win six straight games for the first time since 1991.

The defending Conference USA champions trailed 20-6 after Higgins, the No. 4 receiver in the nation entering the game, caught a 69-yard TD pass from Palmer early in the third quarter. Higgins sprang wide open down the right sideline and then zigged to the left after Kedrick Alexander overran him going for the tackle.

Tulsa came back immediately with an 11-play drive, capped by Paul Smith's 9-yard dart to Donnie Johnson in the back of the end zone, and the Golden Hurricane got within four on Jarod Tracy's third field goal of the game, a 39-yarder.

Idris Moss, Tulsa's top receiver, set up the kick with an acrobatic, leaping catch of a 31-yard pass from Smith that was tipped by UTEP safety Joe Flesoski but then left the game with an apparent injury to his right arm. After the game, Kragthorpe said Moss was "fine."

Palmer, the younger brother of 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, then threw his only interception of the game to open UTEP's next drive and allow Tulsa to take the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.

Palmer finished 21-for-37 for 253 yards, the most this season against Tulsa's No. 2 passing defense in the nation. Higgins caught 10 passes for 153 yards.

Texas-El Paso had a chance to take control after Marcus Thomas' 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter but got only three points off a fumble and an interception by Smith on Tulsa's next two possessions.

Chamberlain tackled kicker Reagan Schneider on a fake field-goal try to end the first drive, and UTEP had to settle for Schneider's 22-yard field goal after Alexander knocked the ball out of Higgins' hands as he jumped to catch it in the end zone. Both drives started at the Tulsa 24.

Smith bounced back from the back-to-back turnovers to finish with 176 yards on 16-for-23 passing.

"It's easy when you look up at the scoreboard and they're not scoring much either," Smith said. "Our defense did a great job. ... They really kept us in the game."