As most of you have seen across the SB Nation network, we are looking back at the wild 2007 college football season, and UTEP sort of contributed to the craziness in a wild October overtime loss to East Carolina.
We first witnessed the infamous "November collapses" or late season blunders under Mike Price in 2006 when UTEP started 4-2, but lost five of their last six to finish 5-7 after back-to-back bowl appearances.
Despite a tough 2006, things were still looking up for UTEP, and the Mike Price momentum was still chugging along in El Paso.
2007 was supposed to be the year the Miners would climb back and compete for a C-USA title, and the roster reflected that.
The major hype was the addition of former Blue Chipper Fred Rouse joining an already high flying UTEP offensive unit.
Another former Florida State transfer, the versatile Lorne Sam was also returning along with a red-shirt freshman quarterback Price was very high on: Trevor Vittatoe.
Marcus Thomas was also back after a sub-par junior season, but was poised for big things, and had a huge 2007 season. Names like Joe West, Jeff Moturi, and Donald Buckram were budding stars in the making and made their marks in 2007.
Defensively Quintin Demps was entering his senior year, Braxton Amy was coming off a Freshman All-American year campaign, and Damon Cromartie-Smith broke out in 2007 as well.
In short, the 2007 UTEP Miners were loaded with frontline talent, but depth was the major question.
Despite being loaded on paper, the team sort of stumbled out of the gate and took a few weeks to mesh.
A 10-6 win over New Mexico was very un-UTEP-like, then UTEP blew a 21-7 lead and fell on the road to Texas Tech 45-31 the next week at the hands of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree.
The Texas Tech hangover continued the next week over in Las Cruces as the Miners gave away 90-plus yards in penalties and fell to the Aggies 29-24.
Texas Southern would come into town the next week and took one on the chin as UTEP put up 52 easy points in a blowout, and up next was conference play.
SMU was up first, and Marcus Thomas ran all around the Ponies in Dallas, as UTEP fought back from a 28-7 deficit to clip SMU in overtime 48-45. That was a game folks in El Paso talked about for a few years after, incredible comeback, and Thomas was officially etched as a star.
The next week saw another shootout this time involving Tulsa at home. Vittatoe proved his mettle on a 76-yard game winning scoring drive, and the Miners squeaked out a 48-47 win sitting 2-0 in conference play, and 4-2 overall.
This team was starting figure it out, despite some very close calls, but the East Carolina Pirates changed the fortunes of 2007, and the future under Mayor Price.
October 13th, 2007
It was a warm October day in El Paso, in a game I will never forget, ever.
ECU came in at 2-1 in C-USA play, they also brought future NFL-star Chris Johnson, and the stage was set for a typical high flying C-USA contest.
41,365 UTEP fans witnessed what would be the first blow to the Mike Price momentum he built up in a short span.
UTEP put up over 500-yards of offense for the third straight game, but this game would go back-and-forth all damn night.
The first half was insane, involving an extra point blocked and taken back for two points by the Pirates. Jose Martinez would recover from the block and nailed a 42-yard field goal right before the half and UTEP led 19-18 at the break.
Former Dallas Cowboy and New York Giant Dwayne Harris ran in for a 57-yard touchdown off an end around, and then threw an 80-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter on consecutive possessions to give ECU a lead.
UTEP trailed 32-25 heading into the fourth quarter, then Vittatoe and offense got hot.
Vittatoe hit Motrui for a touchdown to tie things up, then Marcus Thomas gave UTEP a 39-32 lead with 33 seconds left in the game with a 31-yard touchdown.
Then the play and most heartbreaking scoring drive in UTEP football history happened. ECU needed to go 71-yards with 33 seconds left, and they did just that with ease.
Aided by a UTEP personal foul, ECU quickly marched to the UTEP 34-yard line nine seconds after the penalty with just three seconds left on the clock.
Hail Mary and Complete Confusion Time
You could see UTEP’s prevent defense splitting apart like the Red Sea as Juwon Corwell found the soft spot behind a linebacker, and Rob Kass delivered an easy strike right around the goal line as UTEP was protecting the back of the end zone.
There was a clear miscommunication between the cover corner, linebacker, and their safety help, and Corwell slipped past the UTEP defense for a dramatic last second score to tie things up.
"Yeah, it's luck I guess," Mike Price said of the game-tying touchdown in regulation. "But they threw the ball in there and the guy caught the ball."
Jose Martinez got UTEP on the board first with a field goal, and it was up to the Miner D.
Normally in a crazy football game, when you come through like ECU did in the closing seconds of regulation, you normally don’t lose.
Four plays later, Krass sneaked in after ECU nearly scored on the previous play due to another coverage bust, and the Sun Bowl was absolutely stunned.
My grandpa and I exchanged confused looks, walked out of the Sun Bowl, then bitched and complained about Mike Price’s defense the entire way back to our Northeast home.
"It was a most unusual outcome," UTEP coach Mike Price said after the game. "I've had a few of those in my coaching career. I just don't feel like we deserved to lose the game. Not to take anything away from East Carolina. But we have a group of winners in our locker room."
UTEP lost every game after that in 2007, and while Mike Price’s teams could score with anyone, the defense was starting to take body blows from fans and some media.
2007 saw a bunch of memorable, and close games, but the ECU loss seemed to be a nagging sticking point the talented 2007 UTEP squad just could not overcome.
In coaches speak, some will say one game doesn’t define a season.
But in 2007, UTEP’s heartbreaking loss which still stings today, leaves huge questions on what could have been that season had UTEP communicated well on that final play of regulation.
2007 was a wild year in college football, and UTEP was on the wrong side of the wild, which could still possibly linger over the program 10-years later.
Check out some highlights from that damn October night…