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Demps' pick helps UTEP spoil Long's debut with Aztecs

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Texas-El Paso coach Mike Price stepped out of
the victorious locker room and let out a loud sigh of relief.

"An exhale that could be heard all the way back in Texas,"
Price joked.

Quintin Demps' interception midway through the fourth quarter
helped douse a wild San Diego State rally and the Miners won 34-27
Thursday night to spoil Chuck Long's coaching debut with the
Aztecs.

With UTEP leading 27-24, Demps, the free safety, stepped in
front of a pass from Aztecs backup quarterback Darren Mougey to
Matthew Kawulok with 7:26 left. Demps' second pickoff of the night,
followed by a 23-yard return, helped set up Jordan Palmer's third
TD pass of the night, a 7-yard to tight end Jake Sears with 4:38
left. Palmer also threw four interceptions.

"It had to have been an exciting game to watch, but I thought
it was a really good character-builder for us," Price said. "We
didn't panic. Jordan came back and got back on track."

Mougey replaced injured starter Kevin O'Connell with the Aztecs
trailing 27-3 midway through the third quarter and led them on
three straight scoring drives, including two touchdown runs of his
own.

SDSU's Garrett Palmer kicked a 35-yard field goal with 1:59
left.

Long was hired last December after the Aztecs finished 5-7 and
missed a bowl game for the seventh straight year. A star
quarterback at Iowa in the mid-1980s, he had spent the previous 11
seasons as an assistant coach, five with the Hawkeyes and six with
Oklahoma.

The Aztecs were booed a handful of times in the first half.

"We'll get to the point where they'll be behind you 100
percent," Long said. "You don't ever want to hear the boos. We'll
change that mind-set."

Price got the season going the way he wanted. Although the
Miners posted consecutive 8-4 seasons under Price, they lost their
last three games of 2005, including a blowout loss to Toledo in the
GMAC Bowl.

The Aztecs went nowhere behind O'Connell, who was knocked out
with a right thumb injury midway through the third quarter.

He was hurt on his second-to-last play. On his last play,
O'Connell lost his grip on the ball while trying to pump-fake and
fumbled, with Alfonso Auelua recovering in the end zone for a
touchdown and a 27-3 UTEP lead.

That's when Mougey came on and made it interesting, leading the
Aztecs to 21 straight points in 12:45.

Mougey scored on a 1-yard run with 3:26 left in the third and on
a 14-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Lynell
Hamilton scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 10:44 left
to pull the Aztecs to 27-24.

Mougey completed 12 of 16 passes for 178 yards and gained 41
yards on 13 carries.

Palmer, the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback
Carson Palmer, was 19-of-28 for 205 yards.

The Aztecs intercepted Palmer on three straight drives, helping
set up their final two scores. One of Palmer's interceptions was
tipped, and cornerback Donny Baker had two sideline pickoffs that
were reviewed.

"I felt I was playing well, running the offense well," Palmer
said. "It was humbling but at the same time it was good. The good
thing is the mistakes we made were correctable. We didn't do
anything that was just flat out dumb."

The Miners also committed zero penalties.

Palmer threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jamar Hunt
early in the second quarter and Marcus Thomas scored on an 8-yard
run to give UTEP a 14-3 lead.

The Miners made it 20-3 on Palmer's 11-yard pass to Johnnie Lee
Higgins Jr., capping a drive set up when Demps intercepted
O'Connell.

Palmer missed field goal attempts of 52 and 47 yards in the
first half after making a 46-yarder on the Aztecs' first drive of
the game.

UTEP's Reagan Schneider missed a 36-yard field goal attempt on
the game's first drive.