September 6th – Boulder #6 Colorado 21, Stanford 17
Stanford head coach Dennis Green was 3-8 in his first year in Palo Alto in 1989. His second team came to Boulder ready to play. Stanford raced to a 14-0 first quarter lead before a stunned Folsom Field crowd of 50,669. It took the entire game for Colorado to right the ship, pulling out a 21-17 win as Eric Bieniemy scored from a yard out on fourth down with only 12 seconds remaining to give Colorado the win.
It was Stanford which looked like a title contender early in the game.
A 73-yard punt return by Glyn Milburn set up the Cardinal for its first score, a one-yard run by quarterback Jason Palumbis, with 5:50 to play in the first quarter. On the next play from scrimmage, Eric Bieniemy, who had been suspended for the first game of the season against Tennessee, fumbled at the Colorado 21-yard line. Four plays later, fullback “Touchdown” Tommy Vardell dove in from the one yard line. Suddenly, Stanford, a 20-point underdog, was ahead of Colorado, 14-0.
Thereafter, though, the Colorado defense took command of the Stanford offense, allowing the Cardinal only 104 yards and five first downs after the first quarter. But the defensive effort was almost not enough, as it took the entire game for the Colorado offense to catch up.
The Buffs did have a chance to score before halftime, thanks to a 37-yard run by quarterback Darian Hagan down to the Stanford 13-yard line. Three plays later, however, Hagan was intercepted, and Stanford took a 14-0 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Buffs came on like a top ten team. Eric Bieniemy, who rushed for 149 yards on the evening, scored twice in the third quarter. The first run was for 18 yards; the second 36 yards as the Buffs finally squared the score at 14-all with five minutes remaining in the third.
The two teams traded punts until Stanford put together a 14-play, 58-yard drive, culminating in a 27-yard field goal by Stanford kicker John Hopkins. Stanford was now ahead, 17-14, with only 4:17 to play.
Colorado responded with an 80-yard, 15-play drive to win the game, but it was not easy. Junior tight end Jon Boman caught a tipped Darian Hagan pass, good for 30 yards. At the Cardinal 25-yard line, Bieniemy slashed off the left side of the line for good yardage, only to fumble. The loose ball was recovered by junior right guard Russ Heasley, though, and the Buffs had new life.
First and ten at the Stanford 11-yard line.
Time was running out, but Colorado was in great field position, and had the momentum and the crowd with them. Three plays netted nine yards, however, and the Buffs faced a fourth-and-one from the Cardinal two-yard line. Not hesitating, the Buffs went for the first down, with Darian Hagan sneaking the ball down to the one. First-and-goal, Colorado, with just over a minute left. The last yard seemed but a formality now.
Stanford’s defense, though, stiffened. Two plunges by fullback George Hemingway gained no ground, and, after a failed third down pass, Colorado again faced fourth down.
Only sixteen seconds remained.
A short field goal would preserve a tie. A failed effort would result in Colorado’s first home loss since 1988. “No question, we were going to go for it,” said McCartney after the game. “If it were fourth-and-eight, we still would have gone for it.”
Bieniemy got the call. Up and over the line for a Colorado score. 21-17, Colorado. Bieniemy’s third touchdown of the game was not a gimme, though, and several television camera angles were not definitive. “In my opinion,” said Stanford coach Dennis Green, “if we were at home, they don’t get that call.”
“There was nothing pretty about it,” McCartney said. “This team showed a lot of grit in coming back. We made just enough plays to win. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders, and yet we still found a way to win … I’m proud of this team. There was nothing pretty about this win. We scrambled around and showed some grit to get this victory.”
Colorado was now 1-0-1, but was far from being considered a championship contender. The pollsters certainly thought so, dropping the Buffs to #9 in the next poll, just behind Nebraska (60-14 winners over the Fighting Huskies of Northern Illinois). The Buffs had had their chance to justify their lofty national ranking, playing twice before a national television audience. While still alive in the title hunt, the Buffs were moving backwards in the race. Up next were games against three ranked teams: Illinois, Texas, and Washington.
It was gut check time.
With the 1-0-1 record, the Buffs were actually lucky to still be ranked in the top ten. Most of the national attention the week of the Stanford game was over the upset of top-ranked Miami by #16 BYU, 28-21. With the loss, the defending national champions fell to 10th in the next poll. Notre Dame took over the #1 spot, with #2 Auburn, #3 Florida State, the new #5 BYU and #8 Nebraska all receiving votes for No. 1.
The national championship race was still wide open, but a team with a tie did not seem to have much hope for a national title.
What about a team with a tie and a loss?
Game Notes -
- The victory gave Colorado a 3-1 series edge against Stanford, with the Buffs only loss in the series coming in 1933.
- Eric Bieniemy rushed for a total of 149 yards; Darian Hagan added 103. It what was once a rare occurrence, the Buffs had two 100-yard rushers in the game against Stanford. Prior to the 1988 season, such a double had occurred only 22 times in 99 seasons of Colorado football. In the next 26 games, however, covering the 1988 and 1989 seasons, and the first two games of 1990, Colorado rushers pulled off the trick nine times. The Stanford game, however, represented the only time in the 1990 season in which two Buff rushers eclipsed the 100-yard barrier in the same game. The 103-yard effort by Hagan marked the only time in 1990 in which the Buffs’ quarterback rushed for over 100 yards.
- Junior tight end Jon Boman had one very important catch against Stanford, going for 30 yards in the game-winning drive. After catching three passes for 37 yards in 1989, Boman had three catches (for 59 yards) in the first two games of 1990. Boman, though, would only have five more catches the remainder of the season, and would surrender his starting position to junior Sean Brown for the final seven games of the year.
- Sophomore linebacker Greg Biekert, who had started his first game ever against Tennessee, had fourteen tackles (11 solo) against Stanford. Biekert would go on to lead the team in tackles in 1990 (150; 105 solo) by a wide margin. Second on the team was sophomore linebacker Chad Brown, with 106 tackles.
- Glyn Milburn’s 73-yard punt return was the longest against Colorado since Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders returned a punt for a touchdown against the Buffs in 1987.
- The Buffs had a trick play against Stanford, in which wide receiver Mike Pritchard threw a pass to quarterback Darian Hagan. The play went for 25 yards, and was the first pass of Pritchard’s career, and the first reception of Hagan’s career.
- The attendance for the Stanford game, 50,669, was 794 short of a sellout, continuing a string for Colorado in which the Buffs failed to sell out the home opener. The last home opener which was sold out came in 1972, when the No. 2 Buffs defeated California, 20-10, before 50,751 (capacity at that time was considered to be 50,000).
- The last time the Buffs had rallied from a two-score deficit to win was seven seasons earlier, when, on November 19, 1983, Colorado rallied from a 14-0 deficit to Kansas State to win, 38-21.
- Bieniemy’s 149 yards gave him 2,461 for his career, moving him into third place on the all-time rushing list. On the evening, Bieniemy passed Bobby Anderson (2,367; 1967-69), and left Bieniemy trailing only James Mayberry (2,548; 1975-78) and Charlie Davis (2,958; 1971-73).
- After opening with three losses in the first four games of the 1990 season, Stanford would eventually right the ship under Dennis Green, winning its final three games of the year to finish with a 5-6 record. In 1991, in the third and final year of the Dennis Green era at Stanford, the Cardinal would go 8-4.