Dec. 25, 2002
By PETE HERRERA
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Ed Kezirian's brief time in the spotlight went much better than Katie Hnida's.
Kezirian won his only game as UCLA coach as he led the Bruins to a 27-13 victory over New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Hnida made history, however, becoming the first woman to play in a Division I-A football game. She attempted an extra point after New Mexico's first touchdown but the try, which sailed low, was blocked.
"I can replay in my mind seeing that hand block the kick, and that's going to be what I think about before I go to bed tonight," Hnida said. "It's been a very long road to get here and I thought about it many times, but I really had no specific expectations as to what it would be like."
UCLA (8-5) got the big plays and defensive stops it needed in the second half 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 Toledo was fired at the end of the regular season. Toledo was replaced with Karl Dorrell, the wide receivers coach for the Denver Broncos, but Dorrell has not yet 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-in coach.
His 74-yard punt return early in the third quarter broke a 6-6 tie. Bragg was 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 career average 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 punt return were obviously the difference in the game," New Mexico coach Rocky Long said.
Long defended his decision to give Hnida a chance.
"Katie is a valuable member of our team," Long said. "I think it's a very unusual situation, and she's put in a position a lot of times that's very uncomfortable. I made the decision before the game that we were going to let her kick the first extra point."
Hnida, with her blond hair in a ponytail, attempted the kick after the Lobos took a 6-3 lead on a 55-yard interception return by Desmar Black with 8:20 left in the first quarter.
The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Hnida was on the Colorado roster in 1999 and suited up for the Buffaloes in the Insight.com Bowl. She walked on to the New Mexico team before this season.
The Bruins put the game away with Bragg's punt return and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter off New Mexico turnovers. Page scored one minute into the fourth quarter on a 29-yard return after he picked the ball out of the air off a pass from Kelly that hit tight end Zach Cresap in the back.
Freshman halfback Tyler Ebell scored with 10:40 left after New Mexico's third turnover of the game - a fumble by wide receiver Joe Manning that was recovered 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 not won one since 1961.
|UCLA BOWL HISTORY|
|1943 Rose Bowl-Georgia 9, UCLA 0|
|1947 Rose Bowl-Illinois 45, UCLA 14|
|1954 Rose Bowl-Michigan St. 28, UCLA 20|
|1956 Rose Bowl-Michigan St. 17, UCLA 14|
|1962 Rose Bowl-Minnesota 21, UCLA 3|
|1966 Rose Bowl-UCLA 14, Michigan St. 12|
|1976 Rose Bowl-UCLA 23, Ohio St. 10|
|1976 Liberty Bowl-Alabama 36, UCLA 6|
|1978 Fiesta Bowl-UCLA 10, Arkansas 10, tie|
|1981 Bluebonnet Bowl-Michigan 33, UCLA 14|
|1983 Rose Bowl-UCLA 24, Michigan 14|
|1984 Rose Bowl-UCLA 45, Illinois 9|
|1985 Fiesta Bowl-UCLA 39, Miami 37|
|1986 Rose Bowl-UCLA 45, Iowa 28|
|1986 Freedom Bowl-UCLA 31, Brigham Young 10|
|1987 Aloha Bowl-UCLA 20, Florida 16|
|1989 Cotton Bowl-UCLA 17, Arkansas 3|
|1991 John Hancock Bowl-UCLA 6, Illinois 3|
|1994 Rose Bowl-Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16|
|1995 Aloha Bowl-Kansas 51, UCLA 30|
|1998 Cotton Bowl-UCLA 29, Texas A&M 23|
|1999 Rose Bowl-Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31|
|2000 Sun Bowl-Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20|
|2002 Las Vegas Bowl-UCLA 27, New Mexico 13|
While the Lobos' blitzing and stunting defense held UCLA's rushing game to 26 yards in the first half, New Mexico's offense struggled to sustain drives or killed them with penalties.
The Lobos' other score was on an 11-yard pass from Kelly to Manning in the fourth quarter.
UCLA got first-half field goals of 49 and 39 yards by Nate Fikse. The first one, with 10:24 left in the first quarter, was set up by freshman DonTrell Moore'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 of the game and had just 17 yards on 14 carries.
Hnida's failed kick didn't matter as she made her mark just by taking the field.
Heather Sue Mercer earned a spot on the Duke roster as a walk-on in 1995 but was 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 the team. 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. Last year, Jacksonville State's Ashley Martin became the first woman in Division I-AA to score, kicking four extra points.