November 18th - at Kansas State No. 9 Colorado 27, No. 7 Kansas State 17
The series between Colorado and Kansas State dates back to 1912. The teams had faced each other 50 times previous to the 1995 meeting. The 51st contest, though, would be special. The 1995 match-up represented the first time in the long history of the rivalry in which the Buffs had faced a Kansas State squad ranked in the top ten.
An overflow crowd of 42,454 crammed into the 42,000 seats of Kansas State Stadium to try to cheer on the Wildcats to the best school record since the 1910 squad went 10-1. The game was not decided until the final moments, with 24 of the games 44 total points coming in the final five minutes of the contest. Fortunately for Colorado fans, it was the Buffs who used some late game magic to earn a 27-17 win and a Cotton Bowl bid.
Colorado dominated much of the game, but could not convert opportunities. For the day, Colorado out-gained KSU 526-287 in total yards, but two interceptions thrown by John Hessler, two missed field goals by the usually reliable Neil Voskeritchian, and a blocked punt returned by the Wildcats for a touchdown netted the Buffs a 10-10 tie heading into the fourth quarter.
A drive by the Buffs early in the fourth quarter was thwarted by a fumble by Rae Carruth at the Kansas State 11-yard line. The Colorado defense, which had surrendered only a field goal on the day, stiffened, quickly forced a punt. The Buffs’ offense, taking over after a short punt on the Kansas State 28-yard line, could manage only three yards of progress before bringing in the field goal unit. This time Voskeritchian was true from 42 yards out, and Colorado had a 13-10 lead with 5:53 to play in the final Big Eight game ever for both teams.
Kansas State took over at its 28-yard line after the kickoff, with Buff fans cheering for the defense to make one more stand. For the first time all game, though, the Colorado defense couldn’t hold back the Wildcats. Led by quarterback Matt Miller and wide receiver Kevin Lockett, KSU responded with its only touchdown drive of the game. Ten plays carried the Wildcats 72 yards, with running back Eric Hickson diving over from a yard out.
2:24 to play. 17-13, Kansas State.
While perhaps not “The Drive” of John Elway vintage, the subsequent series by the Buffs cemented John Hessler into Colorado football lore. Taking over at the 20, the next six plays went as follows:
1st and 10 – Colorado 20-yard line – 8-yard pass completion to James Kidd, clock running
2nd and 2 – Colorado 28-yard line – 19-yard pass completion to Rae Carruth, first down
1st and 10 – Colorado 47-yard line – 13-yard pass completion to Phil Savoy, first down
1st and 10 – KSU 39-yard line – incomplete pass (bomb attempt to Carruth, just long)
2nd and 10 – KSU 39-yard line – 19-yard run by Herchell Troutman on the option
1st and 10 – KSU 20-yard line – 20-yard touchdown pass to James Kidd – Colorado leads!!
Six plays, 80 yards, 1:20 off of the clock. Hessler ran the two minute drill to perfection, slicing through a defense which had earlier in the season shutout three consecutive opponents. The score gave the Buffs a 20-17 lead, but there was still 1:04 left on the clock. All Kansas State needed was a field goal to tie the score, and the Wildcat offense had put together a touchdown drive the last time it had been on the field.
After an incomplete pass to start the drive, Matt Miller went into the shotgun. The snap from center was muffed by Miller, giving red-shirt freshman Nick Ziegler the opportunity to drag Miller down. In the process, Ziegler stripped Miller of the ball. Before any of the Wildcat faithful had the opportunity to cry out in anguish, Ziegler fell on the ball in the endzone.
27-17, Colorado. Game over. Colorado had its 9th win and a Cotton Bowl bid.
In the post-game locker room, the celebration continued for the Buffs. Asked about John Hessler, the backup who had come up big several times during 1995, Rick Neuheisel had this to say: “That was a big time drive. There aren’t many quarterbacks that have been playing a long time that could that.” What about his first year as head coach? “I believe good things happen to good people,” before quickly adding, “And I’m not necessarily saying I’m a good person.”
Many in Boulder would disagree. Neuheisel had done it his way. With a team depleted by 10 NFL draft choices and an injured starting quarterback, Neuheisel had still managed an opening campaign of 9-2, by far the best ever record for a first year head coach at Colorado (discounting one year coaches Harry Heller and Willis Keinholtz, who each posted 8-1 records in 1894 and 1905, respectively). The Buffs were on their way to Dallas for a New Year’s Day match-up against 9-2 and 12th ranked Oregon.
Many times during my years in Bozeman, the networks have chosen games for fans in Montana to watch based solely upon their geographic perception of our loyalties. On more than one occasion, this has worked to my benefit as a Buff fan, as the Mountain Time Zone has led the networks to schedule Colorado games. On other occasions, we have been fed an inordinate number of Pac-10 games, the apparent rationale being our relative proximity to the state of Washington.
With #7 Kansas State hosting #9 Colorado, my hopes were that ABC would see the significance of the game, both regionally and nationally, and show the contest in Montana (“ordering” games from the cable company was, in the mid-90’s, a new science. I tried on several occasions, only to be met with frustrating disappointment).
No such luck. Montana was given the USC/UCLA game instead. Granted, the rivalry game between the Trojans and the Bruins is a game of some consequence. However, the 1995 match pitted 8-1-1 and 11th-ranked USC against 6-4 and unranked UCLA. That UCLA pulled off the 24-20 upset had little meaning to me. I was living for the cut-ins and updates from the Colorado game.
No big deal. I had sweated out such games before. What made this game memorable to me was that I was able to watch the final 2:24 of the game live. Despite the lack of scoring, the CU/KSU game was running long, enabling ABC to switch us over after the USC/UCLA game had ended. We cut in just after KSU had scored to take the lead, and replays were being shown of Hickson’s one-yard plunge before a raucous home crowd.
For some reason, though, I was uncharacteristically calm witnessing the touchdown replay. Normally quite the pessimist, I would usually assume the worst – that Colorado had lost the game and its national status. Instead, I sat back and was able to thoroughly enjoy the Buffs’ final few moments in a Big Eight game. The drive went so quickly and so well, there was no time to be worried. Ziegler’s game-clinching sack and fumble recovery came so fast thereafter, there was no time to ponder the negative possibilities of giving KSU the ball back with time on the clock.
I certainly can’t say that I had any conception of Colorado scoring 14 points in just over a minute of clock time to clinch a New Year’s Day berth, but for the first time in a long time, I was able to enjoy a comeback without additional stress. Being a favorite for the previous five years in virtually every game Colorado played, there were few games where the Buffs went into the game with low expectations. In 1995, despite the Buffs’ top ten ranking, the assumption was that Kansas State, with the departure of Bill McCartney, would assume the mantle of Nebraska’s top rival.
John Hessler and Rick Neuheisel, two names few Buff fans would have recognized a year earlier, were the two that refused to let the Buffs slide to mediocrity.
I am glad I was able to witness live the triumph of the 1995 season for these two men. And all I needed to see was the last 2:24 of play to do so.
Game Notes -
- Kansas State would go on to defeat Colorado State, 54-21, in the Holiday Bowl. The win gave the Wildcats a 10-2 record, the first ten win season in Wildcat history. The #7 final ranking would also be an all-time best for the program.
- The 314 yards passing put up by John Hessler was the best ever for a Buff, passing the 276 yards posted by Ken Johnson in the 1971 game (a 31-21 victory for CU).