Nothing in the University of Utah's play of late could have prepared anyone for the comeback it made against the University of New Mexico Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque.
In their two previous games, the Utes had been routed by two mediocre teams - Air Force and San Diego State - and both times fell behind early never to rise again. So when the they fell behind to hapless New Mexico 27-0 in the third quarter Saturday, there was no reason to expect a victory. Up to that point, the Utes had been outscored 145-35 in their last 10 quarters of play."I was not discouraged, I was mad," said Utah coach Ron McBride.
"You want to know what I was really thinking?," said wide receiver Bryan Rowley, smiling. "I was thinking, `Oh boy, now I have to read another Deseret News story telling about how it was.' "
But then things turned. The Utes produced 29 unanswered points and a 29-27 win over New Mexico, making the next day's paper better reading for Rowley, at the very least. It was the biggest comeback by the Utes since a win over Arizona in 1972.
"I'm real proud of this team," said McBride. "They had every opportunity to lay down, and they didn't."
"In the first half, it was like Utah didn't want to play," said New Mexico coach Mike Sheppard. "In the second half, it was like New Mexico didn't want to win."
The Utes' victory gave them a 4-6 record (2-5 in conference play) heading into Saturday's season finale against nationally ranked BYU. A win there would surpass all expectations for Utah.
At the outset of the season, the rebuilding Utes were expected to win about four games. They have beaten the weakest two teams in the WAC: UTEP and New Mexico, the league's traditional cellar dwellers. (Utah has beaten New Mexico in six of their last seven meetings, and the last six games have been settled by six points or less.)
A win over BYU - which is rolling over all WAC challengers - might be too much to ask. But then so was a 29-point rally in the final 25 minutes of Saturday's game in Albuquerque.