1985 Freedom Bowl
December 30th – at Anaheim, California Washington 20, Colorado 17
Some 30,961 fans, representing all the interest that the 7-4 Buffs and 6-5 Washington Huskies could muster, were witness to an exciting, if not particularly well played, contest in the second-ever Freedom Bowl.
Washington coach Don James and his Huskies, with a 20-17 victory, were able to salvage something from a 1985 campaign which had started with great promise.
Washington had been rated highly in the preseason polls (6th in UPI; 12th in AP), only to lose the first two games of the season. Rebounding with four straight wins, the Huskies seemed to have righted the ship, only to be stunned at home by Oregon State, 21-20, losing on a blocked punt return for a touchdown with less than two minutes in the game. After winning two of the next three games, the Huskies again were victimized, again at home and again by the score of 21-20, this time by arch-rival Washington State.
The first quarter of the 1985 Freedom Bowl was scoreless until Washington kicker Jeff Jaeger connected with a 30-yard field goal late, giving the Huskies a 3-0 lead. The Buffs responded with a drive culminating with a one yard touchdown run by fullback Anthony Weatherspoon. Colorado’s 7-3 lead held up until only 30 seconds remained before half, when Washington regained the lead on a three yard run by tailback David Toy.
The second half was much like the first, with the two teams counterpunching like the middleweights they were. After Colorado knotted the score at 10-all on a 33-yard field goal by Larry Eckel, Washington responded with a touchdown drive to reclaim the lead. It took the Huskies only three minutes to score, with fullback Tony Covington doing the honors on a one yard plunge. An 18-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter gave Washington a 20-10 lead.
Perhaps inspired by the effort of the defense in holding Washington to three points from the Buffs’ one yard line, the offense responded by driving into Husky territory. Stopped at the Husky 31 yard line on fourth down, coach McCartney faced a crucial decision. A field goal would bring the Buffs back within seven points, but the kick would be from 48 yards, not exactly within Eckel’s range. Colorado could go for the first down, but the game was now into the fourth quarter, and a ball turned over on downs could prove fatal.
Coach McCartney sent out the punt team, hoping All-American punter Barry Helton could pin the Huskies deep in their own territory.
Punter Helton took the snap and lofted the ball to tight end Jon Embree. The 31 yard pitch and catch for a touchdown brought the Buffs back to within 20-17, with 11:05 still remaining in the game.
The Buffs would draw no closer. Colorado did drive inside the Husky ten yard line with over five minutes to play, but a fumble by sophomore halfback Mike Marquez at the two yard line ended the drive.
The 1985 Freedom Bowl ended for Colorado with a 20-17 setback. The 7-5 record did represent the best turnaround of any team in the nation, but the Buffs remained unsatisfied. A microcosm of the entire season, Colorado had played well against Washington, but had not achieved all of its goals. “It’s a shame we couldn’t have wrapped up a Cinderella season by sticking that last one in the end zone. We were so close”, said Bill McCartney after the game. Todd Phipers, in a column for the Denver Post after the game, summed it up best: “When the disappointment wears off for this 1985 CU team, Monday’s (Freedom Bowl) tough time will become a proud memory.”
No one could foresee what the 1986 season would hold in store. All that anyone could safely predict was that the expectations would be much higher than they had been when the “Back to Black” t-shirts had been distributed back to season-ticket purchasers back in September.
Here is the YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:
Game Notes -
- Sophomore Mike Marquez did have the crucial fumble in the fourth quarter, but he led the Buffs in rushing in the Freedom Bowl, going for 80 yards on ten carries.
- Punter Barry Helton’s 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jon Embree was the longest in Colorado bowl history, besting the 25-yard scoring pass from Dave Williams to Don Hasselback in the 1975 Bluebonnet Bowl). The Colorado punter’s effort would hold up for the next four bowl games, not being bettered until Darian Hagan hit Michael Westbrook for a 62-yard touchdown in the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl against Alabama.
- The touchdown pass by punter Barry Helton was just the icing on the cake for the Colorado sophomore. Helton was named as a consensus All-American in 1985, the first for Colorado since offensive lineman Stan Brock and defensive back Mark Haynes earned the honor after the 1979 season.
- The loss to Washington gave Colorado a 4-7 bowl record overall, and extended the Buffs’ losing streak in bowls to four.