November 2, 1997
By Tommy Trujillo
El Paso Times
BYU 3 UTEP 14
It's hard to stop a miracle. The Brigham Young football team tried. So did chance. But past history and a splash of timely luck helped UTEP find its way to a miracle, one that just might have made its season.
The Miners (3-5 overall, 2-3 Western Athletic Conference) defeated heavily-favored Brigham Young 14-3 Saturday night in the Sun Bowl. BYU (5-3, 3-2) was ranked 25th in the nation in the recent USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches Poll.
The Miners did it without their starting quarterback. They did it with three missed field goals and a 73-yard touchdown pass that was called back on a penalty.
"Everybody was fighting so hard, it was outrageous," UTEP running back Joseph Polk said.
Actually, UTEP did it with their best defensive effort of the season and a few unlikely heroes. On first and goal on UTEP's 4 with four seconds left in the game, the Miners ended their 10-game losing streak to the Cougars in dramatic style when cornerback Michael Hicks intercepted a pass in the end zone.
UTEP head coach Charlie Bailey declined comment after the game. Bailey told his players it was one of the best wins he had ever been associated with. The fans seemingly did his talking. The Sun Bowl crowd of 18,630 rushed the field and promptly removed the south goal post. They carried it up the east side bleachers and deposited it over the stadium wall.
"We had to dictate the game a little bit with blitzes and stuff," Hicks said, "then we got a chance to pick it up. We dictated the whole game." UTEP senior linebacker Brent Henderson intercepted a Drew Miller pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown with 6:36 left in the third quarter to give UTEP a 14-3 lead. Miller was hit by linebacker Zach Wirth as he threw and the ball fell nicely into Henderson's hands. Henderson ran down the BYU sideline untouched. "We just knew what they were doing every play," Wirth said. "They have no idea what we're doing."
UTEP had an idea of its mission. It had happened once before. The Miners pulled off another miracle in 1985, upending the defending national champions 23-16 in a Sun Bowl shocker.
"You have to compliment UTEP on their great preparation," said BYU head coach LaVell Edwards. "They played great defense. They were very sharp and crisp."
UTEP allowed BYU nothing in the rushing game. The Miners gave up zero yards on 20 attempts. BYU gained just 226 yards in the air on 52 plays. Most of those yards were gained on three big plays. UTEP had a 7-3 lead at halftime, thanks to an unexpected scoring threat. Backup quarterback Rocky Perez, who was moved up to the No. 2 role after Craig Strickland left the team, helped the Miners to their only scoring drive of the half. "All week in practice, the coaches helped me out and the guys believed in me," Perez, a red-shirt freshman said. "They told me to step it up, I tried my best and things worked out."
Perez was in for injured starter John Rayborn, who went out near the end of the first quarter with a torn middle quad muscle in his thigh. Perez connected on his first pass play, hooking up with Paul Smith for a 30-yard gain to BYU's 12-yard line. After a run by Ezie Johnson, Perez kept the ball, running to the 1. He kept the ball for a quarterback sneak and finally scored on his second try with 13:04 left in the half. "I've always had a lot of confidence in Rocky," UTEP Offensive Coordinator Gary Nord said. "He's got great leadership capabilities. He sees the field very well and he's a winner. The bottom line is he's a winner."
Perez finished the night completing three of eight passes for 56 yards. He temporarily got knocked out of the game on the Miners' next drive, taking a shot while scrambling. That left UTEP with freshman back-up Adrian Aragon. Perez was diagnosed with a slight concussion, but returned in the first half.
UTEP had two more scoring chances, but failed in two field goal attempts. Matthew Finley, the team's third field goal kicker and No. 1 punter missed on attempts from 42 and 35 yards. He also missed on a 49-yard try in the fourth quarter. BYU scored on its first possession of the game on Owen Pochman's 21-yard field goal with 11:22 left in the first quarter.