New Mexico Upsets No. 23 Utah
Oct. 25, 2003
By DOUG ALDEN
SALT LAKE CITY - New Mexico ensured Utah's first appearance in the national rankings in seven years will be a short one.
"That's just awesome explosion and it's just getting starting. It's just a preview of our team and the success we can have," Moore said.
The Lobos (5-3, 2-1 Mountain West) were nearly as effective on defense, holding the Utes to 300 yards - 91 below their average. It was New Mexico's first win over a ranked opponent since 1994 - a 23-21 upset of then-No. 9 Utah - and the first time the Lobos won on the road against a ranked team since beating No. 13 Arizona 44-34 exactly 28 years before Saturday.
"It feels real good to go down in history, but it's really what we expect of ourselves," said linebacker Billy Strother, who returned a blocked punt 3 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
The Utes (6-2, 3-1) came out flat and allowed the most points they had since a 51-10 loss to Rice in 1996, which had been their last game as a ranked team. Utah was No. 20 before the loss to the Owls.
On Saturday, The Utes couldn't shut down New Mexico when they needed to most. The Lobos converted 8 of 18 third downs and had five plays go for 40 yards or more.
"We had our chances. Any time the offense scores 35 points, you should win the football game - no matter what the circumstances are," Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Wittingham said.
The Utes were the only Mountain West team without a league loss and could have clinched the MWC title outright by winning their last four games, but they never recovered from a sluggish first half.
"If they were overlooking us, than that's kind of unfortunate because we're never going to overlook anybody," Moore said. "Best of luck to them for the rest of the year. They're a good team and they deserve to win some games, but today we wanted it more."
Alex Smith, who was off target early in the game, completed 18 of 32 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns, but most of Smith's offense came as the Utes tried to rally in the second half.
Mike Liti came in when Brandon Warfield left with a sprained knee in the first quarter and ran for 81 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, but gained just a yard after halftime for the Utes.
Wes Zunker kicked four field goals for New Mexico and Casey Kelly was 9-of-23 for 226 yards and a touchdown and ran 15 times for 68 yards for the Lobos. From the end of the second quarter to early in the third, New Mexico scored on five straight possessions to turn a 14-13 deficit into a 36-14 lead.
"We went after them and we were aggressive," Kelly said. "Our emotional level and intensity coming out of halftime was almost something we haven't seen around here before. It was what we needed."
The Lobos scored on their first play of the second half when Kelly threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Boyd to put New Mexico up 23-14.
New Mexico forced a quick punt by Utah and needed just two plays to score again. Kelly threw a 40-yard pass to Dwight Counter, then Cox ran 20 yards for a score and a 30-14 lead. The Lobos had the ball for a combined 22 seconds on both scoring drives.
Adrian Byrd, who finished with 98 yards rushing, had a 78-yard run on the next drive that ended with a 23-yard field goal by Zunker, who added a 36-yarder on the next possession.
Utah finally snapped New Mexico's 23-0 scoring run after Morgan Scalley returned a kick 89 yards and Smith threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Steve Savoy with 4:22 left in the third quarter. But the Lobos stopped Paris Warren's 2-point conversion attempt, then marched 78 yards to take a 44-20 lead on Moore's 35-yard touchdown run with 1:04 left in the third quarter and squash Utah's hopes of coming back.
"We'll have to take care of the mistakes next week. We're not proud of giving up that many yards and points," Scalley said. "This team has a lot of character and we'll just have to fix it next week."
Utah caught a few breaks to take a 14-13 lead in the second quarter. Dave Revill pounced on a fumble for Utah at the New Mexico 18 and Liti scored his first career touchdown five plays later on a 2-yard run to make it 7-0 Utah.
The Utes' second touchdown came on a floating, 21-yard pass from Smith to Savoy that easily could have been intercepted. New Mexico's Gabriel Fullbright waited in the end zone as the ball wobbled through the air, but Savoy stepped around Fullbright and made the catch.
Billy Strother scored on a blocked punt that gave New Mexico a 13-7 lead.