No. 24 Texas Tech 38, UTEP 35, OT
EL PASO, Texas (AP)—Alex Trlica missed two field goals in the fourth quarter before coming through in overtime.
Trlica’s 49-yard field goal hit the left upright and bounced through the posts, giving No. 24 Texas Tech a 38-35 overtime victory over Texas-El Paso on Saturday night.
“First time ever,” Trlica said when asked if he’d ever nailed a game-winner. “It was relieving. Had I not missed the others, it might have been a little different. It was just a huge relief off my shoulders.”
It was a fitting ending to a crazy night at the Sun Bowl, capping a marathon contest that never seemed to finish when it should have—in part because Trlica missed from 51 and 34 yards in the fourth quarter.
Still, coach Mike Leach never hesitated to send his kicker out in overtime.
“We had quite a ways to go to get a first down. It was kind of a no-brainer, really,” Leach said. “I guess it’s a little like when Babe Ruth strikes out three times in a row. It makes it more likely he’ll hit it the next time.”
Graham Harrell threw for 376 yards passing and two touchdowns and Joel Filani had 10 receptions for 169 yards and one score for the Red Raiders (2-0).
On the first OT possession, Texas Tech stopped the Miners (1-1) at the 6 when Darcel McBath intercepted a batted throw by quarterback Jordan Palmer. Two plays later, it seemed over after Harrell connected with Robert Johnson on a 20-yard TD play.
But the Red Raiders were flagged for holding, and officials added another penalty for excessive celebration after the apparent TD—pushing Texas Tech back to the 43. Two plays later, Trlica trotted out for the decisive field goal and pinballed it home.
“When it came off my foot, I thought it was going down the middle,” Trlica said. “Then I saw it tail off and it hit the upright. Everybody was in my way and I couldn’t see. I bent over and saw the ref give the signal.”
The Miners had tied it at 35 when Palmer threw a 39-yard scoring pass to Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr. with 1:04 remaining.
But then just when it seemed overtime was imminent, the Miners—who didn’t have any penalties in last weekend’s win at San Diego State—blundered by committing two defensive penalties with no time on the clock.
“It’s a lot easier to see from the press box than on the field,” UTEP coach Mike Price said, defending his players. “You couldn’t hear yourself think out there.”
A roughing-the-passer call against defensive tackle Zach West and another penalty for having 12 men on the field gave Texas Tech a fourth-down play at UTEP’s 34, but Trlica’s 51-yard field goal try sailed wide left.
Earlier, Trlica missed on a 34-yard try with 4:15 left.
“Those first two kicks, things like that happen,” he said. “I was just hoping I’d get the opportunity to redeem myself and help the team win.”
Filani said Trlica gets some grief on the team simply because he’s a kicker. But it’s certain to be all handshakes on the trip back to Lubbock.
“They all get hated on because they’re kickers,” Filani said. “But Alex, he’s our man. He made a big field goal and we’re happy he made it.”
Palmer, younger brother of Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, completed 34-of-51 attempts for 334 yards and three TDs and two interceptions. The last one wasn’t really his fault, not after it was swatted by 6-foot-8 defensive end Jake Ratliff.
“There’s nothing I would change about that pass,” Palmer said. “There’s only so much you can control.”
Harrell was 40-of-52 with one interception.
Next for Texas Tech is game next weekend at No. 23 TCU, which has Division I-A’s longest winning streak—12 in a row after a 46-13 victory over UC Davis and Texas’ loss to Ohio State. Texas Tech beat TCU 70-35 when they last played two years ago.
It was a festive night until the end for the Sun Bowl crowd of 51,827, the largest ever to see a UTEP home opener and the fourth largest in school history.
“If we can get a crowd like that every week, it keeps us in the game,” Palmer said.
And leave it to Price to spring a few surprises in a wild second half.
The Miners scored on a 41-yard flea-flicker from Florida State transfer Lorne Sam to Joe West in the second quarter, and Sam got UTEP within 24-19 when he lined up at quarterback and scampered for a 9-yard TD on a draw in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Higgins lined up on the right end—in front of Texas Tech’s sideline—and corralled an onside kick that set up Palmer’s 3-yard TD pass to Jake Sears for a 25-24 lead late in the third.
Moments later, UTEP had the ball again at Texas Tech’s 47 after an interception by Quintin Demps. The Miners led 28-24 after Reagan Schneider’s 36-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth period.
Trlica answered, kicking a 26-yard field goal to keep the Red Raiders within 28-27 with 9:51 remaining. And after the defense forced a UTEP punt, Texas Tech led 33-28 when Shannon Woods scored on a 9-yard run.
Harrell found Johnson in the back of the end zone for a 2-point PAT that put the Red Raiders up 35-28 with 7:10 to play.
Things looked even better for Texas Tech when McBath caught Palmer’s first interception at UTEP’s 25 with 6:30 to play. But the Miners’ defense held and Trlica missed from 34 yards.