Bruins Defeat New Mexico, 27-13, To Win Las Vegas Bowl!

Dec 25, 2002

AP Sports Writer

LAS VEGAS - Ed Kezirian's brief time in the spotlight went much betterthan Katie Hnida's.

Kezirian won his only game as UCLA coach as he led the Bruins to a 27-13victory over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Hnida made history, however, becoming the first woman to play in a DivisionI-A football game. She attempted an extra point after New Mexico's firsttouchdown but the try, which sailed low, was blocked.

'I can replay in my mind seeing that hand block the kick, and that's goingto be what I think about before I go to bed tonight,' Hnida said. 'It's beena very long road to get here and I thought about it many times, but I reallyhad no specific expectations as to what it would be like.'

UCLA (8-5) got the big plays and defensive stops it needed in the secondhalf to beat New Mexico, making just its second bowl appearance in 41 years.

The Bruins played under Kezirian, who took over the team after Bob Toledowas fired at the end of the regular season. Toledo was replaced with KarlDorrell, the wide receivers coach for the Denver Broncos, but Dorrell has notyet taken over the team.

'This game isn't really about me, it's about the players,' Kezirian said.

Sophomore wide receiver Craig Bragg helped the Bruins win for their fill-incoach.

His 74-yard punt return early in the third quarter broke a 6-6 tie. Braggwas recruited by Toledo to be a game-breaker.

'I take it upon myself to do that and I did it today,' he said.

Bragg had seven touchdowns this season of 30 yards or more and has a careeraverage of nearly 42 yards on his touchdowns. He fielded the punt at the 26,broke a tackle and raced up the left sideline.

'I thought our miscues on special teams and on offense and the big puntreturn were obviously the difference in the game,' New Mexico coach Rocky Longsaid.

Long defended his decision to give Hnida a chance.

'Katie is a valuable member of our team,' Long said. 'I think it's a veryunusual situation, and she's put in a position a lot of times that's veryuncomfortable. I made the decision before the game that we were going to lether kick the first extra point.'

Hnida, with her blond hair in a ponytail, attempted the kick after the Lobostook a 6-3 lead on a 55-yard interception return by Desmar Black with 8:20 leftin the first quarter.

The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Hnida was on the Colorado roster in 1999 and suitedup for the Buffaloes in the Bowl. She walked on to the New Mexicoteam before this season.

The Bruins put the game away with Bragg's punt return and two touchdowns inthe fourth quarter off New Mexico turnovers. Page scored one minute into thefourth quarter on a 29-yard return after he picked the ball out of the air offa pass from Casey Kelly that hit tight end Zach Cresap in the back.

Freshman halfback Tyler Ebell scored with 10:40 left after New Mexico'sthird turnover of the game - a fumble by wide receiver Joe Manning that wasrecovered by linebacker Brandon Chillar at the Lobos 31.

Bragg's punt return was the Bruins' first for a TD since 1998.

New Mexico (7-7) has played in only seven bowl games since 1939 and has notwon one since 1961.

It showed.

While the Lobos' blitzing and stunting defense held UCLA's rushing game to26 yards in the first half, New Mexico's offense struggled to sustain drives orkilled them with penalties.

The Lobos' other score was on an 11-yard pass from Kelly to Manning in thefourth quarter.

UCLA got first-half field goals of 49 and 39 yards by Nate Fikse. The firstone, with 10:24 left in the first quarter, was set up by freshman DonTrellMoore's fumble at the Lobos 21 on New Mexico's second play from scrimmage.

Moore, who rushed for 1,117 yards this season, ran tentatively the rest ofthe game and had just 17 yards on 14 carries.

Hnida's failed kick didn't matter as she made her mark just by taking thefield.

Heather Sue Mercer earned a spot on the Duke roster as a walk-on in 1995 butwas cut from the team by then-coach Fred Goldsmith before the 1996 season.

Stephanie Weimer tried out for Penn State this summer, but didn't make theteam. Louisville and Colorado also have had female kickers on their rosters.

In 1997, Liz Heaston became the first woman to score in a college game,kicking two extra points for Willamette, which was then an NAIA school. Lastyear, Jacksonville State's Ashley Martin became the first woman in DivisionI-AA to score, kicking four extra points.

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