Utah was led that year by All-American (Central Press Football Captains) tackle Bernard McGarry, who also handled kicks. The defense, anchored by McGarry, held seven opponents scoreless that season, including New Mexico. Unfortunately, McGarry only saw limited action in the Sun Bowl, as he broke his arm during the game.
On the offensive side, Utah's forte was their running attack, led by Tom Pace, Ray Peterson, and Clarence Gehrke. This running attack accounted for 366 of Utah's 384 total yards gained against New Mexico. The Lobo offense, on the other hand, went into the game as a highly-touted aerial threat. However, they only gained 59 yards through the air.
This was one of Coach Ike Armstrong's better teams. It was therefore highly appropriate that Utah was invited to play in a prestigious bowl that year. They came away with a very convincing win against apparently-equal competition. But most of all, they began a long-standing Utah tradition of bowl game beat-downs.
2007 RANKING: #22. This game could easily rank higher than #22, since it was a wonderful way to end a great season. Also, Utah was able to continue this success into the next season, when they went 6-1-2. I guess the fact that they played the New Mexico Lobos may subliminally tarnish this otherwise amazing accomplishment, considering how New Mexico would fare in their future bowl appearances.
• 1939 Sun Bowl Recap from Wikipedia.
• From the 2009 Sun Bowl Media Guide (Click image to enlarge):
• From a Sept. 1, 2007 article in the Albuquerque Tribune:
"[The Utah-New Mexico] rivalry has seen some pretty decent ballgames, including some crazy Nintendo-football matchups in which defenders on both sides had all the strength of potato chips.
"But the 1939 Sun Bowl stands out for something that no one knew would happen.
"Within three years, players on both sides would be embroiled in World War II.
"Nine Lobos who played that afternoon in El Paso would die in the war. Nine. The university - every university - would give some of the best kids of its generation to the fight against Japan and Germany.
"Seven years later, again at the Sun Bowl, people would remember the New Mexico Nine. Before the game, a minister said a prayer to the Lobos who'd lost their lives - a reminder, perhaps, that college football is still, and only, a game."
Peterson Stars For Victors; McGarry Hurt
By B.L. Livingstone
Salt Lake Tribune
January 3, 1939
Heralded in pre-game forecasts at no better than even-money choices, Ike Armstrong's white-shirted warriors from the frigid slopes of the Wasatch took the unaccustomed heat in stride and displayed heads-up ball that kept New Mexico's Lobos on their heels for the duration of the game.
Utah showed its power quickly when it climaxed a 58-yard drive with a touchdown by Tom Pace, who skirted his right end on a lateral from Ray Davis.
With one minute of play remaining in the period, Ray Peterson, flashy Ute back who sparked the Redskins, intercepted Finlay MacGillicray's aerial on Utah's 40-yard line and raced to a second score. Captain Barney McGarry kicked both extra points.
The rambling Utes, with Peterson and Gene Cooper leading the attack, galloped to another score in the second quarter, as Peterson plunged over from the six-inch line on fourth down. Leonard McGarry missed the converstion.
New Mexico's only scoring threat in the first half bogged down midway in the opening period, when Finlay MacGillicray fumbled a pass on Utah's 42-yard line and the Utes took over.
Clarence Gehrke, Utah halfback, took charge of the fireworks in the final quarter as a climax to a Ute 61-yard rampage. He piled over for the touchdown from the 10 after putting the ball in scoring position with a 15-yard run and a lateral to Nauman, tackle.
Utah's great line, led by Captain McGarry, halted New Mexico's famed open offense in its tracks. Wily Coach Armstrong was prepared for New Mexico spread plays, and tossed a monkey wrench into Ted Shipkey's works with a five-man line and wide-flung secondary defense.
Utah played without the services of Paul Snow, its all-conference back, but had a horde of first class substitutes who ran the fighting Lobos ragged in the Texas heat. Utah's superior reserve strength played an important part in the victory.
McGarry was the day's important casualty, the Ute tackle and captain received a fractured arm in the fourth quarter when he tackled Bill Dwyer, New Mexico's crippled backfield star who played only a few minutes.
New Mexico was outclassed from the opening gun. The Utes rolled up 16 first downs to 12, gained 379 yards from scrimmage to 179, and intercepted four Lobo passes.
The Lobo pass attack, with MacGillicray and Reid Monfort on the hurling end, failed to click for the only time this season.
New Mexico held matters on even terms most of the third quarter, but narrowly averted another Ute score just before the whistle. McKissick, Turner, and Tom Pace spearheaded a Utah drive to New Mexico's five, but a pair of five yard penalties halted them.
Leroy Nigra, sports editor of the El Paso Times, put into words what the sports scribes covering the game thought of Utah's great gridiron machine:
"Apparently the Utes played their best game against New Mexico, and it was too good for the Lobos. The Ute line out-charged New Mexico from the start, and was just about tops around this section."
From the start, Utah had the breaks of the game, but Armstrong's boys were quick to take advantage of them. It was heads-up ball on Utah's part from the opening whistle.
The weather, spiced by a hot sun, was hard on both teams, and toward the close of the battle the heat seemed to have taken greater toll of New Mexico than Utah. The Lobos were dragging in their tracks.