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Oklahoma State – Fate, once again, intervenes

// Nov 10 - 1990

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November 10th – Boulder           No. 4 Colorado 41, Oklahoma State 22

Before November 10, 1990, the record for touchdown passes in a single game at the University of Colorado stood at three, and even that relatively low number had been reached only seven times in the 100-year history of the program.

That mark was finally erased as Darian Hagan passed for four scores and a career high 237 yards in leading the Buffs to a convincing 41-22 win over Oklahoma State. A sell-out crowd of 51,873 was on hand as several Colorado players followed Hagan into the record books.

Joining Hagan in the statistical barrage were Eric Bieniemy and Mike Pritchard. With his 148 yards, Bieniemy, already the all-time rushing leader in Colorado history, continued to mount his assault on 4,000 career yards (he would reach 3,940, not counting bowl game efforts). Pritchard caught six Hagan passes, a career high, for 151 yards and two scores. Pritchard’s effort represented only the fourth occasion in school history that a receiver surpassed the 150-yard barrier receiving.

The game itself was only in doubt for only about a quarter or so.

After the Buffs scored early on a nine yard touchdown pass from Darian Hagan to fullback George Hemingway, Oklahoma State tied the score at 7-7 on a 43-yard pass from Kenny Ford to Curtis Mayfield late in the quarter.

Were the back-to-back emotional victories over Oklahoma and Nebraska wearing on the Buffs? “It seemed like everything, everybody, was just dragging at first,” said offensive tackle Mark Vander Poel after the game.

From thereon, however, it was all Colorado, as the Buffs scored the next 31 points of the contest to take a commanding 38-7 lead into the fourth. Colorado took a 17-7 lead into halftime after Hagan hit Mike Pritchard for a 28-yard score, and Jim Harper hit on a 40-yard field goal with three seconds remaining before the break.

The third quarter was all Colorado, as the Buffs posted three touchdowns while the defense held the Cowboys at bay.

The third touchdown pass for Hagan was an eight-yarder to tight end Sean Brown, with Hagan capping his record day on a 34 yard pass to Mike Pritchard. Bieniemy, who had a “quiet” 148 yards, then scored on a 21-yard run to give the Buffs’ bench plenty of playing time.

The fourth quarter saw the Cowboys post two consolation touchdowns, disrupted by a 50-yard field goal by Jim Harper. For anyone checking the top ten scoreboards that Saturday afternoon, the final score of 41-22 made the game seem closer than it actually was on the field.

Style points, however, no longer mattered to the Buffs. The win over the Cowboys gave Colorado at least a share of the Big Eight title. Having already defeated Nebraska, Colorado would earn the Orange Bowl bid even if the Buffs lost to Kansas State and the Cornhuskers won out.

“I don’t think we were prepared emotionally,” said Bill McCartney. “But we rose to the occasion.”

The only matter left unresolved was the Buffs’ Orange bowl opponent.

Once again, fate intervenes

If Notre Dame had any lingering thoughts about ducking the Buffs, they were eliminated as the No. 2 and No. 3 teams both fell, moving the Buffs up to No. 2. While the Buffs were defeating Oklahoma State, Notre Dame was holding onto the #1 ranking with a 34-29 win over No. 9 Tennessee. Meanwhile, No. 2 Washington lost to UCLA, 25-22, to end its title run, while No. 3 Houston lost to No. 14 Texas, 45-24.

In early November, 1990, then, every team in the nation now had at least one blemish upon its record. Georgia Tech, squeaking by Virginia Tech, 6-3, on a last minute field goal, rose to No. 4 on the merits of being the nation’s sole unbeaten team (8-0-1). Miami, at 6-2, moved up to No. 3, but it appeared that Miami and Georgia Tech would be on the outside looking in as the Orange Bowl announced that it had extended an invitation to Notre Dame to oppose the Buffs in a game for the national title.

All appeared to be in place for a national title game. The surprise was not that Notre Dame was in the game. The surprise was that Colorado was No. 2 after opening the 1990 season 1-1-1.

“Going to the Orange Bowl is a tremendous accomplishment for us,” said McCartney. “We couldn’t be more excited about going and representing the Big Eight. I don’t care who we play. If we get another opportunity to play Notre Dame, that would be great. If we got the chance to play Miami, that would be great, too.”

 Preparing for a showdown

Notre Dame had placed second in the voting in the Associated Press pre-season poll; Colorado fifth. So a matchup between the two schools in the Orange Bowl for the national title was not beyond the realm of the reasonable. All that was left for the schools to do was to win out to guarantee a #1 vs. #2 game. The Buffs were at home against Kansas State, while Notre Dame still had Penn State and USC on the schedule. If the Irish could defeat the 18th-ranked Nittany Lions at home and the 19th-ranked Trojans on the road, they would hold onto the No. 1 ranking.

The Buffs, despite being deprived of a national title in 1989 by Notre Dame, were now Irish fans. “Hopefully, they’ll win their two games and we’ll win ours, and it will be for the championship,” said Bill McCartney. A loss by either team would bring Miami, Georgia Tech, and BYU (ranked third, fourth, and fifth) back into the title picture.

With one loss and one tie already making Colorado’s claim to national prominence tenuous (not to mention the ignominy of the fifth-down game against Missouri), the last thing the Buffs needed was debate rating Colorado against schools other than Notre Dame.

A loss by Notre Dame would give the Buffs a No. 1 ranking for only the second time in school history.

But the Buffs were willing to wait. As Colorado had discovered after the 1989 season, it was better to be No. 1 on January 2nd than January 1st.

Video highlights from the game:

Game Notes –

– Junior linebacker Paul Rose had an interception against Oklahoma State, returning it for 36 yards, the longest return of an interception by a Buff all year. Rose, who played in only five games on the year, followed his performance against the Cowboys with another interception the following week against Kansas State.

– Senior safety Tim James also had an interception against Oklahoma State, the second game in succession James had a steal. James would finish the season with a team-leading six interceptions, and would be named first-team All-Big Eight for his efforts (and receive honorable mention All-American status on the UPI team).

– In order to accomplish his record-setting four touchdown passes, Darian Hagan had a season high pass attempts – 23. Mike Pritchard caught six of those passes – also a season high for a buff in 1990. Pritchard’s 151 yards marked only the second time in his career that he had over 100 yards receiving (four catches for 114 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma earlier in 1990). The 237 yards passing were a high for the Buffs since switching to a predominantly rushing attack in 1985.

– Junior placekicker Jim Harper’s 50-yarder against Oklahoma State was his second field goal of over 50 yards on the season (54 yards against Illinois).

– Eric Bieniemy’s 148 yards against Oklahoma State gave him 1,513 yards for the season, besting the old single season record of 1,386 set by Charlie Davis in 1971.

– The Buffs did not have a sack against the Cowboys, the first time in 1990 that had happened, and the first time in 11 games in which Alfred Williams did not have at least a half of a sack.

Associated Press Top Ten Poll – November 12, 1990

1. Notre Dame

2. Colorado

3. Miami

4. Georgia Tech

5. BYU

6. Florida

7. Texas

8. Virginia

9. Florida State

10. Washington

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2 Responses to “Oklahoma State – Fate, once again, intervenes”

  1. Paul

    I do remember when I provided the link that Pat Jones sounded like he was mispronouncing Eric Bieniemy’s last name.

  2. Adam

    One of my favorite things about reading game stories from this era (the back-to-back Orange Bowl teams) is that it reminds me what an incredible joy it was to watch Mike Pritchard play. ND had “The Rocket” who was a tremendous all-purpose threat to be sure but as someone who had the pleasure of watching Pritchard play live and in person on a number of occasions, I always felt that he was The Rocket’s equal. Those Buff teams were loaded on offense and the one guy who always seemed to me to be their best, most legitimate threat to score from anywhere on the field was Mike Pritchard. Simply a joy to watch play.

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