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UNM Football Retro: Lobos’ 1994 upset of Utah a shocker

UNM Head coach Dennis Franchione is carried off the field by Ryan Mummert, John Lisker and Michael Deitz after the win over Utah on November 5, 1994. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

You could look it up, though we won’t make you do that. Stoney Case and Winslow Oliver are two of the best at their positions ever to play football for the University of New Mexico.

Case (1991-94), almost 26 years after he last took a snap for the Lobos, remains the program’s all-time leader in career passing yardage (9,460) and total offense (10,561).

Oliver (1992-95) still ranks fourth in career rushing yardage (3,332) and third in all-purpose yards (5,375).

But, like other Lobos whose names dot the record books (hey there, Terance Mathis), Case and Oliver were not rewarded with team success commensurate to their individual contributions.

Case’s career record: 16-29. Oliver’s: 18-27. They shared just one winning season, a 6-5 mark in 1993. Neither played in a bowl game.

Even so, they’ll always have one golden, late autumn afternoon in 1994, when their 3-6 Lobos rose up to smite the unbeaten (8-0), ninth-ranked Utah Utes at University Stadium.

The Lobos’ 23-21 triumph on Nov. 5, sealed by Nathan Vail’s 22-yard field goal with 32 seconds left in the game, checks in at No. 4 on our highly unofficial list of New Mexico’s 12 most memorable football games.

Oliver and Case, both Texans but from distant and disparate parts of the state, were brought to UNM by coach Mike Sheppard — a gift to his successor, Dennis Franchione.

Case, who’d led Odessa Permian to a Texas big-school state title in 1989 — a year after the events chronicled in the book “Friday Night Lights” — redshirted in 1990. He played for UNM in 1991, sharing snaps with senior Jeremy Leach and junior Marcus Goodloe. The Lobos went 3-9, and Sheppard’s firing was announced before season’s end.

Oliver, a 1991 signee from Kempner High School in suburban Houston, sat out that season due to academic eligibility concerns.

The next two seasons under Franchione, with Oliver lining up behind Case, the Lobos scored plenty of points — but gave up far too many.

In ’94, it seemed, nothing had changed. UNM opened with five losses, allowing an average of 40.4 points. Oliver, who suffered a foot injury in the opening minutes of the opening game, missed the next three.

But as Case continued to put up big numbers, and with a healthy Oliver sharing the load on the ground with senior Eric Young, the Lobos won three of their next four.

Still, they appeared no match for Utah.

The Utes, led by quarterback Mike McCoy, came in off a 52-7 pulverizing of UTEP and averaging 40 points a game. None of their eight previous opponents had come closer than 11 points.

And when the Lobos fell behind 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-3 midway through the second, UNM’s goose appeared cooked.

Not so. After Oliver turned a desperation, third-and-10 dump-off from Case into a 31-yard gain to the Utah 12-yard line, Young scored from the 5. Franchione opted, successfully, to go for a 2-point conversion. Utah’s lead at halftime was 10.

And shockingly, in the second half, the Lobos’ “M&M” (as in much-maligned) defense took over the game. After rolling up 305 yards in the first half, the Utes would manage just 166 in the second.

Less than 4 minutes into the third quarter, a 22-yard Vail field goal cut the Lobos’ deficit to seven. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Case hit backup tight end Roy White for a touchdown from 2 yards out.

But, horrors — Vail’s potential game-tying PAT was no good. Had the Lobos come back this far, wondered a near-capacity crowd, only to fail?

No, they had not. Again and again, the UNM defense stifled McCoy and the Utah ground game. And Case — facing a fourth-and-4 from the UNM 27, the game essentially over should he not convert — hit senior wideout Gavin Pearlman for 57 yards to the Utah 17.

From there, the Lobos positioned the ball for Vail in the middle of the field.

Pearlman, a St. Pius X graduate who’d come back to Albuquerque after two seasons at a small college in Ohio, couldn’t look. Instead, head bowed on the sideline, he recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Then, he told Albuquerque Journal beat writer Ed Johnson, “I heard the crowd. I knew it was good.”

Pearlman, who finished with five catches for 93 yards, the following day was named the Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the week.

Once the final gun sounded, a joyous pandemonium reigned on the University Stadium turf. The goal posts game down. Franchione wound up with mascara on his face, and not courtesy of his wife, Kim. Neither Franchione seemed to mind.

Damon Burrest, a 6-foot-4, 317-pound defensive lineman, spoke for himself and his defensive brethren.

“I knew I had to have a big game for us to win,” he said. ‘We gave ’em 21 points, but our offense gave us 23. This was a great feeling.”

As has so often been true of UNM football, the feeling didn’t last. The Lobos lost their next game, 38-28 at Wyoming, and finished 5-7 on the year.

The following spring, Case was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals. He played parts of six seasons with the Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions, mostly as a backup, then spent five years playing arena football.

Case, 48, now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, runs a hunting apparel business and doubles as a quarterbacks coach.

Oliver, 47, finished his UNM career with 915 yards rushing and a 5.6-yard average per carry in 1995. Drafted in the third round by the Carolina Panthers, he played three years with Carolina and two with Atlanta before retiring to the construction business in the Houston area.

In a December 2019 story in the Charlotte Observer, Oliver said he’s dealing with short-term memory problems after sustaining multiple concussions during his playing career.

Lobo quarterback Stoney Case during the Lobo’s upset over Utah on November 5, 1994. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

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