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No. 5 Kansas State – Happy Birthday!

// Oct 10 - 1998

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October 10th – Boulder           No. 5 Kansas State 16, No. 14 Colorado 9

Kansas State came to Boulder with a 2-24 all-time record in games played on the Buffs’ home turf.

The Wildcats in 1998, though, were beating their opponents by an average of 57 points a game, and had a defense which had allowed a total of 21 points in Kans State’s first four contests. Despite its lofty status and undefeated record, though, Kansas State had yet to garner much support as a national power. The Wildcats started the season ranked 6th, and despite the fact that several teams ranked above them had lost, the Wildcats had only risen to 5th in the polls.

Kansas State had something to prove in Boulder, both to themselves and the nation. For their part, the Colorado Buffaloes were a shaky 5-0 and were a 17-point underdog, at home, to a team they had lost to only once in the last 13 seasons.

The Buffs, too, had something to prove.

Both teams did.

Kansas State ran off Folsom Field and into the warm October night with a hard-fought victory. The Buffs, meanwhile, walked slowly back to their locker room, heads held high, but still muttering about what might have been.

Kansas State emerged from the game with a 16-9 victory, and could now make a rightful claim to their high ranking. Colorado, which had for much of the night looked as if its school-record string of 115 straight games without being shutout (dating back to November, 1988, when Nebraska shut out the Buffs, 7-0) would be coming to an end, had played into the final minute with an opportunity to win.

Points were hard to come by early. Martin Gramatica hit on a 30-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter to stake Kansas State to an early lead. Colorado did get inside the ten-yard line of the Wildcats early in the second quarter after a 43-yard pass from Mike Moschetti to fullback Andy Peeke, but a fumbled snap two plays later ended the threat. On the ensuing drive, a long hookup from Michael Bishop to Aaron Lockett set up the Wildcats at the six yard line. Three plays later, fullback Brian Goolsby scored from two yards out to give Kansas State a 10-0 halftime lead.

Two field goals by Gramatica, the second coming three minutes into the fourth quarter, staked the Wildcats to a 16-0 lead.

In the final stanza, though, the Buffs launched a furious comeback. A fumble recovery by senior linebacker Terrell Cade set up the Buffs at the KSU 36-yard line. It took eight plays, but Colorado finally scored. On fourth-and-goal at the five yard line, Moschetti found Marcus Stiggers in the end zone with 5:42 to play. A two-point conversion would have made it a one score game, but the run failed, leaving the score at 16-6.

The Colorado defense forced a three-and-out, giving the Buffs’ offense another opportunity. Moschetti hit Darrin Chiaverini three times on the drive, including one for 19 yards on second-and-34, and another for 20 yards on fourth-and-15. The heroics, though, were not enough, as CU settled for a Jeremy Aldrich 20-yard field goal to make the score 16-9 with 1:46 to play.

The Buffs had one last chance, as the defense once again forced a Kansas State punt with 37 seconds left. Unfortunately, there would be no Hail Mary attempts, as an illegal participation penalty (12 men on the field) gave the ball back to the Wildcats, who could finally run out the clock and celebrate their win.

Both defenses dominated.

The Buffs held Kansas State, which was averaging 470 yards and 62 points per game, to 332 yards and 16 points. By forcing the Wildcats to settle for three field goals and only one touchdown, the defense earned the respect of its head coach. “Defensively,” said Neuheisel, “I take my hat off to the kids; they flew around and made plays.”

Starting middle linebacker Ty Gregorak agreed. “The defense played well,” said Gregorak, who had five tackles, including one for a loss of eight yards. “We did a lot of great things against a real good offense.”

The Buffs’ offense, conversely, couldn’t be called “real good”. Held scoreless for the first 54:18 of the game, the Buffs had only 225 yards of total offense, including 37 yards rushing … on 31 carries.

A measure of respect was afforded the Buffs in the polls despite the loss. The opening win over Colorado State had vaulted the Buffs to No. 16 in the polls. One week later, CU inched up to No. 15. There the Buffs sat for three weeks as teams with more impressive wins vaulted over them, despite CU’s continued winning ways. Finally, the Oklahoma win, coupled with a loss by No. 11 Syracuse, had allowed the Buffs to move up to No. 14.

The loss to Kansas State should have resulted in a free fall for the Buffs, as only one of the eight teams ranked behind CU also lost that weekend. Instead, though, CU fell only to 19th. In losing, the Buffs seemingly had garnered more respect from the pollsters than they had with their four previous wins.

Now it was left to the Buffs to face another undefeated team … 22nd-ranked, 6-0 Texas Tech.

Respect or no, if Colorado wished to stay in the hunt for a quality bowl game, moral victories would no longer be sufficient.

Happy Birthday

Useless stat of the week: coming into the Kansas State game, Colorado was 7-4 all-time on my birthday, October 10th.

The loss to the 5th-ranked Wildcats made the record 7-5, including 0-3 since my arrival in Boulder in 1980.

Other games on my birthday: In 1981, CU lost to an unranked Nebraska squad 59-0. Nebraska would rejoin the polls the next week, and would stay in the polls into the 21st century; In 1987, the Buffs lost to 19th-ranked Oklahoma State, 42-17.

(In case you are wondering about 1992, The Buffs should have played on my birthday, but the game against Missouri was moved to Thursday night for ESPN. CU won that game, 6-0).

My birthday wasn’t a total loss. The beautiful fall day in Boulder (and the 5:00 p.m. kickoff) allowed for a pleasant round of golf in the morning. Heading off to the stadium, Randy and I were able to check in with some other games, and were able to witness Texas A&M run off to a 28-7 lead over Nebraska (holding on to win, 28-21). The weather in Boulder for the game was excellent, and our defense proved itself to be first rate.

To be honest, with five minutes to go in the game, I was relieved more that CU had scored at all (and preserved the 116 game scoring string) than I was excited about the possibility of a great comeback. But there we were, first-and-goal with over two minutes remaining, down 16-6. Going for the field goal to pull within seven points at 16-9 made sense after the Wildcats forced a fourth down. Despite the proximity to the goal line, the Buffs still needed two scores to tie.

Once again the defense held, and CU was to have one last chance with 37 seconds to play. But on the punt return, there was miscommunication between head coach Rick Neuheisel and special teams coach Bob Hauck, as each sent out a separate punt returner. The net result was 12 men on the field, with the ball returned to Kansas State.

In the stands, where many of the sell-out crowd of 51,581 had left late in the third quarter after CU had failed on fourth down attempt deep in Wildcat territory, the mood was one of frustration. One fan behind us booed incessantly, calling for Neuheisel’s head. Not one normally given to confrontation, I turned to the boo-bird as the final seconds ticked away and inquired: “Did you honestly expect to be this close at the end of the game?” His sarcastic response: “I was here when the Buffs were good!” My immediate reply: “Well, I was here when the Buffs were shitty!”

Neither of our retorts were classics of oratory, but I guess it did sum up my feeling about the game. Yes, we had lost, and had been outplayed for much of the game. But we had lost by only seven points, and our defense, if nothing else, had proven its metal. All in all, Colorado was 5-1, and that was a helluva lot better than 5-6 from a year earlier. The team was young, decimated by injuries, and yet was showing character and grit. I decided that night that I liked the 1998 edition of the Colorado Buffaloes.

Happy Birthday.

Game Notes –

– Injuries continued to hurt the Buffs. With senior guard Ben Nichols injured, junior Chris Morgan earned his first career start against Kansas State. Morgan would go on to start six of the last seven games of the season, including the bowl game against Oregon.

– Also making his first career start against the Wildcats was safety Michael Lewis. A freshman, Lewis had season highs in plays (74) and tackles (9) against Kansas State.

– CU quarterback Mike Moschetti had a season-high 34 pass attempts against Kansas State, but completed only 15 (for 225 yards and one touchdown).

– Coupled with the 37-20 victory over Colorado in 1997, Kansas State enjoyed its first two-game winning streak over the Buffs for the first time since 1973-74 (and only the third such streak in the series. The only other two-game winning streak for the Wildcats against the Buffs came in the first two games played between the two teams, with the games played in 1912 and 1939).

– The 16 points scored by Kansas State represented – by far – the lowest point total of the season for the Wildcats. After escaping Boulder, Kansas State went on to score 50 or more points in its next three games, with its lowest point total in any other game coming in a 31-25 win over Missouri.

– Kansas State was 11-0, ranked No. 2 in the nation, and primed for a national championship showdown against Tennessee. The Wildcats, though, were shocked by Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game, losing 36-33 in double overtime. The loss hung over the program all the way to the bowl game, where Kansas State fell to Purdue in the Alamo Bowl, 37-34, to fall to a No. 10 ranking in the final poll.

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