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Lobo defense makes big plays as Utah keeps turning ball over

Utah's Travis LeTendresse is tackled by UMN's Aleem Harris on Saturday night.
Utah's Travis LeTendresse is tackled by UMN's Aleem Harris on Saturday night.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret Morning News

New Mexico's defense had three takeaways, a blocked PAT kick and scored once (Quincy Black's 31-yard interception return) in the first half.

It was embarrassed, however, with its performance, said linebacker Cody Kase.

Like his coach, Rocky Long, Kase could only see Utah's four first-half touchdowns, 264 yards in the air and eight-point halftime lead.

The chagrined Lobo defenders stepped it up in the second half, blitzing Utah quarterback Brian Johnson even more, and harder, for eight sacks.

They came away with another defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery by Kase, plus another interception to overwhelm a suddenly sputtering band of Utes.

New Mexico shocked Utah with a come-from-behind 31-27 victory to close out the Rice-Eccles Stadium portion of the Utes' season.

The win made the Lobos bowl-eligible with a 6-4 record, 4-3 in the Mountain West Conference, with one game left.

The Lobos tied a school record with their nine sacks, they had 10 tackles-for-loss, and they won for the ninth straight time under coach Rocky Long following a scheduled bye week.

"We just started doing things better," Long insisted, saying the blitzes were just more effective, not different, in the second half. "We blitzed the first half. I thought the defense really played well the second half, but I thought we were pretty shaky in the first half."

"We were mostly embarrassed," Kase said of the first half. "We're better than that."

Kase scored the winning touchdown when Michael Tuohy sacked Johnson, and Kase returned it 2 yards with 7:07 left. "Right position, right time. I just had a good game," Kase said.

He and Tuohy were in the right places to seal the win, too. Kase had a 9-yard sack to help keep the Utes from a comeback, and Tuohy intercepted Utah's last pass, returning it 13 yards to help the Lobos run out the final minute-plus.

The Lobos had recovered only two opponent fumbles in their first nine games, though they did have 13 interceptions. During the bye, they worked on making fumbles

"We did it tonight," said Tuohy. "We had more intensity (in the second half) and didn't make as many mistakes. We started to get pressure on the quarterback."

Offensively, the Lobos got touchdowns from DonTrell Moore, held to 70 yards rushing, a running TD of 8 yards by quarterback Chris Nelson and a Nelson-to-Hank Baskett 50-yard TD pass as Baskett outdueled two Utes along the sideline and left them colliding with each other as he high-stepped the rest of the way.

Baskett had eight receptions for 135 yards, his fifth 100-plus yardage game of the season and third in his last five games, faring better against Ute safety-returned-to-cornerback Eric Weddle's blanket coverage than Wyoming's Jovon Bouknight had last week.

Baskett and Weddle will be NFL players soon, predicted Long. "Weddle is just a great football player, and Hank made two unbelievable plays," Long said. Baskett also had a 27-yard catch on the drive that produced his touchdown late in the third quarter. That drive cut Utah's lead to 27-25.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com