In a game full of mistakes, New Mexico's Michael Tuohy turned the Blunder Bowl into a thrilling victory over Utah for the Lobos.
Tuohy forced a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown with 7:07 remaining, then made an interception with 70 seconds to play to clinch a 31-27 victory over the Utes on Saturday.
"We came up with the last big play. In a game like that, it's whoever makes the best play at the end of the game," New Mexico coach Rocky Long said.
In the end, it was Tuohy, who stepped in front of Brett Ratliff's pass and held on to the ball on a wild night when both teams struggled with turnovers and botched kicks.
"I'm glad he caught it, but then I was praying for him to just get on the ground before someone hit him and he fumbled," Long said.
The way the game had gone, that wouldn't have been much of a surprise. New Mexico missed two extra points, botched one punt and had another blocked, and committed a personal foul that would have ended Utah's last threat before Tuohy's interception.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson was running on fourth-and-16 and was stopped after a 12-yard gain, but the Lobos were called for a helmet-to-helmet hit that set up Utah with first down at the New Mexico 40.
Johnson was helped from the field with a knee injury, which apparently ended his season, and Ratliff entered the game. Ratliff completed his first pass for 21 yards to Travis LaTendresse and the Utes got another break on an offsides penalty to set up first-and-5 from the 14, when Tuohy ended the threat with his second biggest play of the night.
With Utah leading 27-25 and 7:07 remaining in the game, Tuohy was sacking Johnson and knocked the ball loose. Kase scooped up the ball after Tuohy knocked it loose and ran it in for the score.
"I swiped at it and made the tackle. He just happened to fumble it and we recovered for a touchdown," Tuohy said. "We were due for a game like this."
The Lobos (6-4, 4-3 Mountain West) shut out an opponent in the second half for the first time this season and sacked Johnson eight times in the last 30 minutes. New Mexico finished with nine sacks and shut out the Utes (5-5, 3-4) in the second half after allowing four touchdown passes by Johnson in the first two periods.
New Mexico clinched its fifth straight season with at least six wins. Utah can still become eligible for a third-straight bowl, but will need to win at rival Brigham Young next week and without Johnson, who Whittingham said is out with a ligament injury in his left knee.
"I think we moved the ball well offensively at times, but it's hard to win with four turnovers," Whittingham said.
Hank Baskett had eight catches for 135 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown during New Mexico's rally, and Chris Nelson passed for 197 yards in his first start.
Johnson passed for four touchdowns for the second straight week, but also threw an interception, fumbled for the game-winning touchdown and had an errant option pitch that led to a touchdown for New Mexico.
LaTendresse, who had missed three straight games with an ankle injury, had nine catches for 192 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown pass from Johnson. Johnson also had scoring passes of 26 and 52 yards to Derrek Richards and a 41-yarder to Brent Casteel, but the Utes couldn't score in the second half after a bizarre first 30 minutes filled with blunders by both teams.
New Mexico's Kenny Byrd missed two point-after tries and Utah had an attempt blocked. Nelson threw an interception in the end zone and Johnson answered with an interception that was returned for a score by Quincy Black a few plays later.
The Utes fumbled a kickoff return at the 27 to set up a score by New Mexico on DonTrell Moore's 2-yard run with 10:56 left in the second, then the Lobos gave it right back to the Utes on a botched punt that gave the Utes the ball at the New Mexico 41.
It was a difficult night for everybody, including the officials. A pass over the middle by Nelson in the second quarter bounced off the umpire's head. And the third quarter nearly opened with 12 minutes on the clock until the referee asked over the loudspeaker to have the full 15:00 put up.
Utah also lost receiver John Madsen, who broke his left ankle in the first half.