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Hnida makes history, but New Mexico falls short

12/25/2002

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Ed Kezirian's brief time in the spotlight went
much better than Katie Hnida's.

Kezirian won his only game as UCLA coach as he led the Bruins to
a 27-13 victory over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Hnida made history, however, becoming the first woman to play in
a Division I-A football game. She attempted an extra point after
New Mexico's first touchdown but the try, which sailed low, was
blocked.

"I can replay in my mind seeing that hand block the kick, and
that's going to be what I think about before I go to bed tonight,''
Hnida said. "It's been a very long road to get here and I thought
about it many times, but I really had no specific expectations as
to what it would be like.''

UCLA (8-5) got the big plays and defensive stops it needed in
the second half to beat New Mexico, making just its second bowl
appearance in 41 years.

The Bruins played under Kezirian, who took over the team after
Bob Toledo was fired at the end of the regular season. Toledo was
replaced with Karl Dorrell, the wide receivers coach for the Denver
Broncos, but Dorrell has not yet taken over the team.

"This game isn't really about me, it's about the players,''
Kezirian said.

Sophomore wide receiver Craig Bragg helped the Bruins win for
their fill-in coach.

His 74-yard punt return early in the third quarter broke a 6-6
tie. Bragg was recruited by Toledo to be a game-breaker.

"I take it upon myself to do that and I did it today,'' he
said.

Bragg had seven touchdowns this season of 30 yards or more and
has a career average of nearly 42 yards on his touchdowns. He
fielded the punt at the 26, broke a tackle and raced up the left
sideline.

"I thought our miscues on special teams and on offense and the
big punt return were obviously the difference in the game,'' New
Mexico coach Rocky Long said.

Long defended his decision to give Hnida a chance.

"Katie is a valuable member of our team,'' Long said. "I think
it's a very unusual situation, and she's put in a position a lot of
times that's very uncomfortable. I made the decision before the
game that we were going to let her kick the first extra point.''

Hnida, with her blond hair in a ponytail, attempted the kick
after the Lobos took a 6-3 lead on a 55-yard interception return by
Desmar Black with 8:20 left in the first quarter.

The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Hnida was on the Colorado roster in 1999
and suited up for the Buffaloes in the Insight.com Bowl. She walked
on to the New Mexico team before this season.

The Bruins put the game away with Bragg's punt return and two
touchdowns in the fourth quarter off New Mexico turnovers. Page
scored one minute into the fourth quarter on a 29-yard return after
he picked the ball out of the air off a pass from Casey Kelly that hit
tight end Zach Cresap in the back.

Freshman halfback Tyler Ebell scored with 10:40 left after New
Mexico's third turnover of the game -- a fumble by wide receiver Joe
Manning that was recovered by linebacker Brandon Chillar at the
Lobos 31.

Bragg's punt return was the Bruins' first for a TD since 1998.

New Mexico (7-7) has played in only seven bowl games since 1939
and has not won one since 1961.

It showed.

While the Lobos' blitzing and stunting defense held UCLA's
rushing game to 26 yards in the first half, New Mexico's offense
struggled to sustain drives or killed them with penalties.

The Lobos' other score was on an 11-yard pass from Kelly to
Manning in the fourth quarter.

UCLA got first-half field goals of 49 and 39 yards by Nate
Fikse. The first one, with 10:24 left in the first quarter, was set
up by freshman DonTrell Moore's fumble at the Lobos 21 on New
Mexico's second play from scrimmage.

Moore, who rushed for 1,117 yards this season, ran tentatively
the rest of the game and had just 17 yards on 14 carries.

Hnida's failed kick didn't matter as she made her mark just by
taking the field.

Heather Sue Mercer earned a spot on the Duke roster as a walk-on
in 1995 but was cut from the team by then-coach Fred Goldsmith
before the 1996 season.

Stephanie Weimer tried out for Penn State this summer, but
didn't make the team. Louisville and Colorado also have had female
kickers on their rosters.

In 1997, Liz Heaston became the first woman to score in a
college game, kicking two extra points for Willamette, which was
then an NAIA school. Last year, Jacksonville State's Ashley Martin
became the first woman in Division I-AA to score, kicking four
extra points.