8:00 PM ET, October 4, 2003
Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, TX
DALLAS (AP) -- Trailing 10-0 after missing a short field goal and coming up short on fourth-and-inches on the goal line, UTEP coach Gary Nord knew his team needed a boost against SMU.
It came in the second quarter when Mike Perez returned a blocked punt 31 yards for a touchdown, starting UTEP's rally in a 21-19 victory that ended a 17-game road losing streak.
"It was huge because the momentum was on their side," Nord said. "Especially when we got down on the 6 inch line and did not score. That was huge deflater."
The Miners (2-4, 1-0 WAC) beat a Division I opponent for the first time in 10 tries.
"Winning the conference opener really puts us ahead of the game instead of trying to play catch up," said Orlando Cruz, who threw two touchdown passes.
After SMU (0-5, 0-2) came within 21-19 on Keylon Kincaid's 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, the Mustangs never crossed midfield again.
"We're getting better every week," Nord said. "What's happened in the past is behind us. This is a whole new program."
Five minutes after Perez scored, Chris Marrow caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Cruz that gave the Miners a 14-12 lead.
Cruz was 8-of-16 for 190 yards, and he also rushed for 48 yards.
The Miners went up 21-12 in the third quarter when Howard Jackson scored on his only catch of the night, an 86-yard pass from Cruz. Jackson also rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries.
"Poor tackling," SMU coach Phil Bennett said. "We are a team and if we are not clicking on all levels, we don't win games."
SMU's Jonas Rutledge returned the opening kickoff 83 yards to set up Chris McMurtray's 33-yard field goal just over two minutes into the game.
Rutledge passed Arthur Whittington to become SMU's all-time leader in kick return yards with 1,736 yards. He also broke the SMU single-game record for kickoff return yards with 190. The record was 186.
"It was like parting the red sea out there," Rutledge said of his returns. "If we would get a win, I would feel better about the record. I would trade it for a win, that's for sure."
SMU lost two fumbles. Leading 10-7, Kincade caught a Richard Bartel pass and darted for a 55-yard gain before the ball was knocked loose by Marshall Sanford. UTEP's Joe Ward recovered the ball on the 1-yard line.
Kincaid finished with 31 rushes for 127 yards for the Mustangs. Richard Bartel went 14-of-30 with 195 yards and one interception for SMU.
UTEP won its first conference opener on the road in 16 years. UTEP's last conference-opening win on the road was a 45-6 victory over Colorado State in 1987.
"We haven't won on the road so this is a stepping stone for us," Jackson said. "We are planning on getting more of them too."