10:00 PM ET, October 9, 2004
Bulldog Stadium, FRESNO, CA
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr. turned an underthrown pass into a 91-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and UTEP made two late defensive stands to send Fresno State to its second straight loss, 24-21 Saturday night.
Jordan Palmer was 12-of-23 for 185 yards, and nose tackle Chris Mineo returned an early interception for a score in the biggest victory of coach Mike Price's first season at UTEP (3-2, 1-1 Western Athletic Conference).
With Higgins' incredible broken-field score and Robert Rodriguez's interception with 1:58 to play, the Miners hung on for the school's first victory in Fresno in seven tries since 1938.
UTEP stopped two Fresno State drives in the final two minutes. After Rodriguez picked off struggling quarterback Paul Pinegar's terrible pass, Alex Obomese batted down Pinegar's final throw with 57 seconds left.
"(There were) too many missed big plays, drops, bad throws, bad protection," Pinegar said. "We've just got to do everything better. Guys have got to want to still be here, want to play, want to win."
Bryson Sumlin rushed for 160 yards and a touchdown for the Bulldogs (3-2, 0-2), who tumbled out of the national rankings last week with a fourth-quarter collapse in a loss at Louisiana Tech.
After non-conference wins over Kansas State and Washington, Fresno State is 0-2 in the WAC for the first time since joining the conference in 1992.
"We are not as good a football team as we were earlier in the year," coach Pat Hill said. "We came out at a very high level, and we have not reached that again."
The near-sellout crowd repeatedly booed Pinegar, who threw two interceptions in the final five minutes at Louisiana Tech. The fans really let him have it when he hit Rodriguez in the numbers to kill Fresno State's next-to-last drive.
Howard Jackson rushed for 54 yards and caught five passes for 58 more, but he fumbled with 1:39 left to give Fresno State one last shot. The Bulldogs managed just four plays, with Pinegar getting penalized for an illegal forward pass before his final try was swatted down by Obomese.
Fresno State held the Miners to 129 yards in the second half -- 91 on Higgins' only catch of the game -- but the offense couldn't capitalize.
"They're not executing," defensive tackle Garrett McIntyre said of the offense. "They're not all on the same page. I don't know why. You can't just blame it on Paul. He's struggling, but we're all winning as a team and losing as a team."
Josh Chamois rushed for a score for the Miners, whose 10-point halftime lead never seemed safe. Joe Fernandez pulled Fresno State within 17-14 on a 7-yard TD catch late in the third, and the Bulldogs pinned the Miners at the 9 with a punt to end the quarter.
On the next play, Palmer was hit as he threw a long pass down the Fresno State sideline -- but Higgins went back to get the ball, eluded three defenders and scored for the second-longest reception in Bulldog Stadium's history.
Pinegar rushed for a 2-yard score with 9:01 to play, but penalties and the quarterback's poor decisions ruined the Bulldogs' final two drives, which never got far past midfield. Pinegar finished 20-of-36 for 126 yards.
Just 85 seconds into the game, Mineo intercepted Pinegar's tipped pass and returned it 17 yards for a score.
Sumlin, playing on almost every rushing play after co-starter Wendell Mathis injured his ribs during pregame warmups, scored on a 4-yard run to cap an 87-yard drive later in the first.
"Everybody likes to carry the ball a lot, but it doesn't matter when you lose," Sumlin said.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||4-14||7-19|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0||1-2|
|TD||13:35||CHRIS MINEO 17 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)||7||0|
|TD||2:33||BRYSON SUMLIN 4 YD RUN (BRETT VISINTAINER KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 87 yards.
|TD||12:30||JOSH CHAMOIS 1 YD RUN (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 78 yards.
|FG||7:11||REAGAN SCHNEIDER 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 41 yards.
|TD||4:10||JOE FERNANDEZ 7 YD PASS FROM PAUL PINEGAR (BRETT VISINTAINER KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 45 yards.
|TD||14:45||JOHNNIE LEE HIGGINS 91 YD PASS FROM JORDAN PALMER (REAGAN SCHNEIDER KICK)|
Drive info: 1 plays, 91 yards.
|TD||9:01||PAUL PINEGAR 2 YD RUN (BRETT VISINTAINER KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 51 yards.