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Lobos to Celebrate History on Saturday vs. UTEP

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Saturday night will be a festive time around the corner of University Drive and Avineda Cesar Chavez.  The Lobos host the 80th meeting between New Mexico and the UTEP Miners, with kickoff slated for 6 pm at University Stadium.

As for the festivities?  Well, there’s plenty of those.

New Mexico will be honoring three past teams that have a ton of history, not just for Lobo fans, but for head coach Danny Gonzales.

The 1962 WAC Champions:  The 1962 team was UNM’s second title and the first of three straight.  That title was the first since the 1938 Border Conference title.  The 1962 team went 7-2-1 overall and 2-1-1 in the WAC.  The key win was a 21-8 victory at home in fairly new University Stadium.  Players such as Jim Ottman, Jim Cromartie and Bobby Santiago are slated to be in attendance for the game.

The 1982 “Justice Bowl” Champions: The 1982 Lobos went 10-1, the only 10-win team in school history.  However, they weren’t invited to a bowl game.  Neither were the 10-1 Tulsa Golden Hurricane.  So what did the two cities do?  The created the fictional “Justice Bowl”, hosted in Amon Carter Stadium in Ft. Worth (the geographic middle-distance between the two schools.  Depending on which city you were in, New Mexico won 30-27 in Albuquerque on a last second touchdown.  In Tulsa, they won 27-24 when a last second interception sealed the win.  Trivia: who was the broadcaster of the “game” … hint he’s very famous.

The 1997 Mountain Division Champions:  A team in which Danny Gonzales was a player, this Lobo team went 9-4, hammering Tulsa (there’s your justice) 51-13 to clinch a spot in the WAC title game, where UNM lost to Colorado State.  The Lobos went on to play in the Bowl, UNM’s first bowl game in 36 years.

Along with the festivities on the field, there will be plenty after the game as it’s Fireworks Night, with a nearly 9-minute fireworls extravaganza slated for after the game (weather permitting).

All of that is awesome, but there is a little matter of a football game, one that UNM wants to win to end a two-game UTEP winning streak in the series.  The Lobos are 1-1 after a 31-14 loss to Boise State, which UTEP held on for a 20-13 win over New Mexico State, getting a key late turnover deep in their own end to move to 1-2.  Don’t let that record fool you as UTEP was right there in an early season loss to Oklahoma.

For UNM, the Lobos will look for the return of Trae Hall to help an offense that struggled to hit the home run ball, but when they hit it they hit it.  Geordon Porter had a touchdown catch for a second straight week and UNM’s defense is ranked No. 7 in the country even after playing a veteran offense in the Boise State Broncos.

UNM led last year’s game 13-3 but failed to score in the second half. “I think last year we led 13-3 and our guys thought the second half would be easy, and they kicked our tail,” said Danny Gonzales.  “Coach Dimal has done a great job there.”

Gonzales feels UNM and UTEP should meet as often as possible, both for the fan base and the rivalry.  “It’s two very similar programs, and the series is pretty close.  We’ve won 43, they’ve won 33 and there’s been three ties.  I think it’s great for both programs to play and I’m glad we had this two-game series.  I hope we have more.”

For now, he just wants a win on Saturday, and for a festive time for the fans and his fellow alums being honored.  Oh, and for good weather so everyone can enjoy the fireworks show!

Trivia answer: the play-by-play broadcaster for the Justice Bowl was Bob Carpenter, who is now the lead announcer for the Washington Nationals and did plenty of baseball on ESPN.