Buffaloes pull out a win in back-and-forth Houston Bowl
HOUSTON – Joel Klatt saw his receiver streaking behind the defense, reared back and threw deep. Then, everything went blank.Klatt didn’t realize what happened next until some teammates helped him off the turf a few seconds later.”I couldn’t tell you happened,” Klatt said.The result was a game-winning, 39-yard touchdown pass to Evan Judge, helping Colorado to a 33-28 victory over Texas-El Paso in the Houston Bowl on Wednesday night.”The linemen told me (about the score),” he said, “when they picked me up.”Klatt finished 24-of-33 for 333 yards and two touchdowns, and keyed a fourth-quarter comeback by the plodding Buffaloes (8-5), who tried to keep pace with UTEP, which is ranked eighth in the nation in scoring offense.Colorado led 3-0 midway through the first quarter and trailed until seizing the lead late in the game.Facing a fourth-and-3 at its own 35 and trailing by two points, Colorado resorted to a bit of trickery. Punter John Torp hustled 22 yards around the left end on a fake punt for the first down.”I guess we watched it too long because it worked,” UTEP coach Mike Price said. “We should have maybe tackled the guy that was running.”Two plays later, Klatt found Judge wide open for the go-ahead score with 8:43 left. Klatt was flattened by UTEP defensive end Ibok Ibok as he released the ball and didn’t see the touchdown. He got up off the turf slowly and wobbled off the field into the arms of celebrating teammates.The Miners (8-4) still had a chance to win the game in the final minutes.On third-and-4 from the UTEP 25, Jordan Palmer completed a 15-yard pass to Johnnie Lee Higgins, keeping a late drive alive. But Palmer misfired badly on his final four passes, and the comeback try fizzled.Colorado coach Gary Barnett was doused with a Gatorade cooler in the waning seconds, and dozens of players embraced their embattled leader.Colorado’s first bowl victory since the 1999 Insight.com Bowl capped an improbable turnaround for the Buffaloes, who went through an offseason of scandal and turmoil.Barnett’s program was the target of sexual assault claims dating to 1997, followed by an investigation that discovered sex, alcohol and drugs were used as recruiting tools, although there was no evidence that university officials sanctioned it. Then, Barnett was put on three months of administrative leave for making insensitive remarks about two accusers, including a former kicker who said she was raped by a teammate in 2000.Barnett was reinstated May 28, and began building the foundation for a turnaround from a 5-7 record in 2003.Colorado won its last three games of the season to earn a share of the Big 12 North title, and Barnett was voted the Big 12 coach of the year.”We sort of finished the way we started the season,” Barnett said. “We were determined to fight and stay together. Every game has been a fight. Nothing has been easy.”UTEP came very close to pulling off its first victory over a Big 12 opponent in 12 tries, but couldn’t hold off the faster, stronger Buffs in the second half.Palmer, the younger brother of former Heisman winner Carson Palmer of Southern California, completed his first eight passes for 120 yards as the Miners raced out to an early 14-3 lead.But Palmer began to struggle, Klatt began to find his rhythm and UTEP began to wear down as Colorado tailback Bobby Purify (80 yards, 22 carries) began pounding away at the Miners’ smaller defensive line.”This should rest on our shoulders,” said UTEP star linebacker Robert Rodriguez, who had 14 tackles, five for a loss and one sack. “We didn’t stop them from scoring. For us to have scored that many points, we should win the game.”After Colorado closed within 21-19 on Crosby’s 20-yard field goal, the teams traded a couple of quick scores in the first minute of the fourth quarter.Palmer started UTEP’s next drive with a 55-yard pass to Jason Boyd, who went up and over cornerback Lorenzo Sims Jr. to pull in the ball. Three plays later, Palmer threw a pass between four defenders, hitting Higgins in the end zone to give UTEP a 28-19 lead.But on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Klatt threw a short pass in the middle of the field to Klopfenstein, and the lumbering 250-pound tight end turned the reception into a 78-yard touchdown.Palmer finished 22-of-42 for 328 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions – both to Colorado safety Tom Hubbard. Boyd had seven catches for 140 yards and Higgins also had seven for 122.UTEP, which won two more games this season than in the previous three combined, has lost in all three bowl appearances since winning the 1967 Sun Bowl.”Right to the very end, our guys were giving a big effort,” Price said. “This is a team that was picked to finish last and these guys have been browbeaten for three years. I’m very, very proud of them.”
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