HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Joel Klatt threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes and the Colorado defense limited UTEP to seven second-half points as the Buffaloes rallied for a 33-28 victory over the Miners in the Houston Bowl.
Klatt, the game's Offensive MVP, stepped up in the second half, completing 11 of 15 passes for 216 yards.
Both teams and coaches overcame plenty of obstacles to reach Houston and with the Buffaloes' win, this could have been called the Comeback Bowl.
Colorado, which rallied from a 14-3 deficit at the end of the first quarter, went through spring practice without coach Gary Barnett, who was suspended for three months after allegations of wild recruiting parties and making insensitive comments.
"Everything's been a fight for us this year," Barnett said. "We were determined on August 5th (start of fall practice) that we'd be a team that would fight and stay together."
UTEP earned a bowl bid after three straight two-win seasons behind coach Mike Price, who was out of coaching last year after being fired at Alabama for incidents stemming from a trip to a Pensacola, Florida strip club.
"I think the UTEP Miners are here to stay," Price said.
UTEP (8-4) took a 28-19 lead on a three-yard TD pass from Jordan Palmer to Johnnie Lee Higgins just 40 seconds into the fourth quarter. From there, Klatt and the Buffaloes took control of the game.
Colorado (8-5) responded just 18 seconds later when Klatt fired a 78-yard scoring strike to Joe Klopfenstein to pull the Buffaloes within 28-26.
"I didn't think I'd be that open," said Klopfenstein, who caught five passes for 134 yards. "I turned and no one was there. There was one guy I stiff armed and just kept running."
"We just had a missed coverage on that," Price said. "The safety was trying to pop the ball out instead of tackling him."
A bit of trickery set up Colorado's winning touchdown later in the final quarter. Punter John Torp raced 22 yards on 4th-and-3 from the Buffaloes 35 to give the offense a first down in UTEP territory.
"We called it on the sideline," Barnett said. "John's really good at doing that. Everybody's been looking for it all year and we finally ran it."
"We'd been saying all week to watch the fake punt," Price said. "We watched it all right. We watched the guy run."
Klatt took advantage less than a minute later as he hit Evan Judge for a 39-yard TD, giving Colorado a 33-28 lead with 8:43 remaining.
"I had no idea (it went for a touchdown)," Klatt said. "I got hit pretty good. Evan took off like he was supposed to and I put a lot of air on it and hoped the safety didn't come over."
Klatt finished 24 of 33 for 333 yards with no interceptions.
"On a few of the plays it was a lack of communication," UTEP cornerback Adrian Ward said. "Everybody was playing a different coverage."
UTEP scored 21 points in the first half but was unable to generate any offense in the second half. The Miners picked up only 25 yards and had two turnovers on their first three possessions of the half.
"We felt like we could throw deep," Price said of UTEP's early success. "It's something we're pretty good at. The well went dry offensively in the second half."
The Buffaloes blitzed Palmer in the second half and UTEP had no answers. Palmer completed 22-of-41 passes for 328 yards and two TDs. He also was intercepted twice and constantly harassed by the Colorado defense in the second half.
"You beat the blitz one or two times, they won't keep blitzing you," said Palmer, brother of USC's former Heisman Trophy winner Carson. "It's me and the receiver not being on the same page."
Palmer completed his first eight attempts for 119 yards. "They weren't all perfect throws," Palmer said. "We had guys making great catches."
"The first half they ran stuff on us we hadn't seen on film," said Colorado's 6-5 free safety Tom Hubbard, the game's Defensive MVP with four tackles, two interceptions and a broken up pass.
Colorado limited Palmer to 9 of 24 for 144 yards in the second half.
UTEP receiver Jayson Boyd was the best player on the field in the first half. Boyd, who finished the game with seven catches for 140 yards, transferred to UTEP from Oregon State. His father, Jeff, played at Colorado and is a member of the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame.
Kicker Mason Crosby made 4-of-6 field goal attempts for the Buffaloes, including a 54-yarder that set a Colorado bowl record. Seven of his eight kickoffs went for touchbacks.
"The guy's unbelievable," Barnett said. "You saw the way he kicked off. One field goal he missed he got a bad snap on."