Trlica grew into Texas Tech’s most reliable kicker after 2006 win at UTEP


After watching Texas Tech struggle to get past an FCS team in its season opener, we learned nothing is given and no wins are guaranteed.

The Red Raiders travel to El Paso this weekend for the first time since 2006 when they needed an overtime kick from Alex Trlica to edge UTEP, 38-35.

Texas Tech was No. 24 heading into the game against an unranked Miners team that would finish the season 5-7, but Trlica and his teammates knew UTEP would put up a good fight.

“They had a pretty talented quarterback in Jordan Palmer,” Trlica said. “If you looked at the matchup on paper, it would show that we probably should have won by more. I think everyone was pretty hyped up that week. It was a night game against an unranked team, but I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be an automatic win.

“In college football, you can’t take anything for granted and last week [against Central Arkansas] is just a prime example.”

UTEP hasn’t been in the college football spotlight for a long time. But when big-time programs visit the Sun Bowl, they get the Miners’ best shot.

In 2012, No. 4 Oklahoma was in a tough battle in El Paso before escaping with a 24-7 win. Three years earlier, a nationally-ranked Houston team, that had beaten Texas Tech the previous week, lost to the Miners in a stunning upset.

“It was a great atmosphere in a really cool stadium and I remember it being fairly loud because the mountains were like walls keeping the sound down there.” Trlica said. “With an opportunity to get a Big 12 opponent in their stadium early in the year, I think their team and fans were all pretty psyched for that matchup.”

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and the offense were nearly unstoppable that night, but UTEP always responded with a score of its own.

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Trlica had opportunities to give the Red Raiders some breathing room and a win in regulation, but two kicks sailed wide left in the fourth quarter.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was feeling a little down,” he said. “Just more letting people down and my teammates down. I would have much rather gotten out of there without having to go into overtime. Just mentally trying to get those two missed kicks behind you was the biggest hurdle.

“The guys on the team rarely criticized and just told you to brush it off and get ready for the next play because the game’s not over.”

Trlica got another chance after safety Darcel McBath picked off a Palmer pass during UTEP’s first overtime possession.

A couple of penalties by Tech pushed the game-winning field goal try back to a 49-yard attempt. But Trlica wasn’t nervous and didn’t need any extra motivation to redeem himself after two misses.

“I didn’t try to psych myself up for anything,” he said. “I was always trying to stay level-headed and not let my emotions swing too far. A clear mind is a good thing to have going into a kick.”

But if there wasn’t enough drama already that night, Trlica’s kick bounced off the upright and in for the win.

“I saw it hit the upright and I could tell the ball went down and not at me,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell from where I was standing if it went in or not. Then the refs threw their hands up that it went in.

“The feeling that I had the most was relief. It wasn’t excitement, but just relief that I didn’t miss another kick. Probably the biggest feeling of relief that I’ve ever had in my life to be honest.”

Trlica went on to become one of the most reliable kickers in NCAA history with 233 consecutive extra points made. But Texas Tech fans will remember him most for his game-tying field goal in the 2006 Insight Bowl and game-winner against Virginia in the 2008 Gator Bowl.

“The Gator Bowl was probably my favorite one just because it was my last kick ever at Tech,” he said. “It was a good taste to have in your mouth as your last play and kick you ever kicked in your college career.

“I think the UTEP kick was a good experience for me early in my career to go through the emotional roller-coaster. I think I grew the most from that situation and it definitely helped me in the Insight and Gator bowls for those situations to draw on past experiences.”

While it was exciting to be in position to kick a few game-winners, Trlica wouldn’t mind if every win during his Red Raider career was a blowout victory.

“I’d rather win by two touchdowns than have to kick it at the end,” he said.

Texas Tech fans hope that’s the case this weekend in El Paso, too.

Follow Louis Ojeda Jr on Twitter @LouisOjedaJr