Like a Stallone movie, when Utah and UTEP play a football game, everyone knows what to expect. Back by popular demand is the game the statisticians love to hate.
For the fifth-straight year, the Utes and Miners short-circuited the scoreboard. There were yards everywhere - 738 in the air between them. Points? Ninety-five. Records? Utah's Scott Mitchell threw six touchdown passes, to tie a school record, as the Utes stopped UTEP 50-45 Saturday night in the Sun Bowl.The Utes scored three touchdowns in the final period to gain their second victory of the year. Utah is 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the WAC while UTEP is 1-5 and 0-2.
As has become custom, the teams played like two fraternities on spring break. They had totaled enough points by the end of the third quarter to go home with motion sickness.
But there was much left to to come.
Trailing 33-29 entering the final quarter, Mitchell threw two scoring passes and Clifton Smith carried for another to put the games away. Mitchell found Smith on a two-yard strike early in the period and hit freshman Brian Rowley for another with 7:45 to go.
The wrap came two minutes later when Smith ran three yards to score, putting the game out of reach.
UTEP got on the board again twice in the final three minutes with Howard Gasser throwing two touchdowns to Reggie Barrett. The final came with 56 seconds to go.
Utah wide receiver Tim Imperiali caught five passes for 111 yards and Smith had a career rushing day, going for 151 yards.
UTEP entered the game with worse problems than the Utes, which were considerable. The Miners had given up 36 sacks on quarterback Howard Gasser - twice the number the Utes had allowed. During the week, second-team wide receiver Glenn Bishop was suspended and starting lineman Steve Casper underwent an appendectomy, thinning the ranks even more.
Utah had some absentees as well, with starting linebackers Garland Harris and Darren Patterson and defensive lineman Sam Tausinga all missing due to injuries.
Scoring points wasn't supposed to be a problem in the first place. In the previous four games they combined for 293 points and almost 4,300 yards total offense. Utah established a school record in 1986 by scoring 44 points and losing anyway.
The teams didn't disappoint anyone. In the first period alone Utah had runs of 54 and 28 yards (both by Clifton Smith) while UTEP had runs of 55 (Creg Evans) and Scooter Menifee (28).
The teams began the night by going for a world record for sacks. Mitchell was brought down three times in the first quarter; UTEP's Gasser was brought down twice.
Smith set up the game's first score on a 28-yard run to the UTEP seven-yard line. The Utes scored on a Mitchell-to-Dennis Smith four-yard pass.
With 3:53 left in the period Menifee broke through the line and sprinted 48 yards for a touchdown, tying the score.
That only started a series of odd plays. Clifton Smith went 54 yards to the UTEP 26, but on the next play Miner Ken Sale intercepted. On Utah's next possession the Utes got to UTEP's 34, but Mitchell then threw a weak pass over the middle that was picked off by Emilio Pittman.
The Miners went ahead 13-6 two minutes into the second quarter on a one-yard sneak by Gasser. Kicking, which has been a Miner headache all year, showed up again when Dominick Cefalone missed a PAT, leaving the Miners with a 13-6 lead.
Utah went back ahead when Mitchell lofted a 40-yard bomb pass to Tim Imperiali for a touchdown. Wayne Lammle's PAT gave Utah a 14-13 lead.
Utah's lead stood until the final minute of the half. On fourth and three at the Ute 44, Gasser kept the ball and ran 31 yards to the Ute seven. He then put the Miners ahead, throwing a five-yard, off-balanced scoring strike to Clarence Seay. A failed two-point conversion left the Miners with a 19-14 lead at the break.
By that time, both teams had run up almost 300 yards offense a piece.
The third quarter was a strange and wonderful affair. Mostly strange. Utah went ahead with 8:47 left in the period on Brian Rowley's 19-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell. It was the third time the Utes scored on that series. They went in once on a Clifton Smith run that was negated on an illegal procedure penalty. Smith scored again on a seven-yard pass reception, but that was erased on a clipping penalty. Finally, Mitchell found Rowley and then the Ute quarterbacksneaked in for the two-point converison.
The Miners answered on a short pass from Gasser to Evans that turned into a 74-yard touchdown. Evans bumped off four Utah tacklers and then sprang open for the score and a 26-22 lead.
Utah then found Imperiali again, this time for on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 4:53 to go in the quarter, giving the Utes a 29-26 lead.
The Miners took their last lead at the end of the third quarter on Gasser's 16-yard pass to Barrett.