November 20th – Boulder Colorado 44, Kansas State 36
Colorado came back from a 14-3 deficit to build a two score halftime lead, then fought off a series of Kansas State challenges to post a well-earned 44-36 victory over Kansas State. Junior running back Rodney Stewart ran for career-high 195 yards, caught two passes for 49 yards, and threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Toney Clemons in leading the Buffs to their second consecutive victory over a Big 12 opponent for the first time since 2007.
The stars seemed aligned for the Buffs to play well against the Wildcats: the weather was cool (37 degrees), but sunny; the Buffs were on a high from winning their first game in the post-Dan Hawkins era; and it was Senior Day, with the players and fans pumped after a pre-game ceremony honoring the out-going seniors.
So, naturally, the Buffs came out and fell flat.
Arthur Jaffee lost the opening kickoff in the sun, and was swarmed under at the Buffs’ 13-yard line after finally collecting the kick. Three offensive plays netted a minus-five yards for the Colorado offense, and Zach Grossnickle’s short (34 yard) punt was returned by Ty Zimmerman 41 yards to the Colorado one yard line. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein did the honors from there on the next play.
Less than two minutes played, and Colorado was already down 7-0.
It could have been a long afternoon.
Instead, the Buffs rallied, taking the ensuing kickoff and marching downfield. A pair of good runs by Rodney Stewart (of ten and 13 yards) and a 14 yard pass from Cody Hawkins to Paul Richardson pushed the ball into Wildcat territory. The drive stalled, however, at the Kansas State 31-yard line, where kicker Aric Goodman hit a 48-yard field goal to make the new score 7-3 midway through the first quarter.
The Wildcats, though, were not the least bit impressed by the Buffs’ drive, moving 80 yards on nine plays on their first true offensive opportunity. A 40-yard pass from Klein to tight end Travis Tannahill on a third-and-nine set up Kansas State for another Klein one-yard touchdown run and a 14-3 Kansas State lead.
With the 41,147 on hand (the students were out for Thanksgiving break, reducing the crowd size) shufflling nervously in their seats, the Buffs slowly, but quite assuredly, took control of the game.
A 43-yard kickoff return by Will Jefferson set the Buffs up in good field position, and it took only seven plays for Colorado to post its first touchdown of the game. A 31-yard run by Jefferson out of the “Wildcat” formation placed the ball in the Kansas State redzone, with junior Rodney Stewart taking over from there. Runs of six, eight, one and a touchdown run of two yards made the score 14-9. The score remained 14-9 a moment later, though, when Aric Goodman’s extra point attempt was blocked.
Defenses for the two teams finally exerted their presence early in the second quarter, forcing consecutive punts. On the Wildcats’ next possesion, though, the game changed for good. Colorado linebacker Liloa Nobriga forced a fumble from Wildcat running back Daniel Thomas near midfield. The fumble was scooped up by senior cornerback Jimmy Smith and returned 22 yards to the Kansas State 24-yard line. On the second play after the fumble, Rodney Stewart took a pitch from Cody Hawkins and rolled out to his right before lofting a 23-yard touchdown paass to a wide open Toney Clemons.
Colorado 16, Kansas State 14, with 10:27 to play in the first half.
Defenses controlled much of the remainder of the second quarter, before the Buffs took over with 2:30 to play. A 15-yard screen pass from Hawkins to Stewart set the Buffs’ up in Wildcat territory. Hawkins then teamed up with Scotty McKnight for a score, hitting the wide open senior receiver near the 20-yard line, with McKnight doing the rest on his own, diving for the pylon to complete a 37-yard touchdown play. The touchdown reception was the 21st of McKnight’s career, breaking his tie for the all-time career mark McKnight had held with Derek McCoy and Rae Carruth.
Colorado 23, Kansas State 14.
A three-and-out by Kansas State and a 25-yard run by Rodney Stewart gave Colorado one last chance to score before the half, with a 54-yard attempt by Aric Goodman turning wide left as time expired.
Halftime score: Colorado 23, Kansas State 14.
The Buffs went to the locker room for the third straight weekend with a lead of two scores or more, and were dominating the Wildcats (242 total yards to 130). Rodney Stewart was already over 100 yards rushing (105 yards on 18 carries), and the Buffs seemed primed to do more of the same in the second half against the Kansas State defense, ranked 119th in the nation against the run.
For Colorado, the second half began as well as the first half had begun poorly. Kansas State punted after three plays, with two of the plays resulting in sacks (one each by defensive end Josh Hartigan and nose tackle Will Pericak). The Buffs then put together their longest drive of the game, but the drive did have a scary moment. On third-and-four at the Colorado 20-yard line, Cody Hawkins was intercepted by cornerback Thomas Ferguson. The Wildcats were penalized on the play, though, for roughing the passer. The penalty not only gave the Buffs the ball back, but it gave Colorado a first down on the play. The Buffs went on to post a ten-play, 86-yard drive, finished off with another Hawkins-to-McKnight touchdown, this time from 13 yards out.
Colorado 30, Kansas State 14. The Buffs, after falling behind 14-3, had now rattled off 27 consecutive points. The Colorado defense, after surrendering two touchdowns on the Wildcats’ first two drives, had since forced Kansas State into a drive chart consisting fof the following: punt; fumble; punt; punt; punt; punt. The Wildcats had run 21 plays since taking the 14-3 lead, gaining only 40 yards. The rout was on!
Kansas State, down two scores, refused to go away. After the McKnight touchdown, the Wildcats and Buffs became engaged in a game of “anything you can do, I can do better”, with each team answering each other’s scores.
The Wildcats’ offense, inept for almost two quarters, came to life under backup quarterback Carson Coffman. It took Kansas State only eight plays to go 69 yards to pull within a touchdown. Coffman carried the ball in himself from six yards out, with running back Daniel Thomas connecting on a “jump pass” two-point conversion with wide receiver Andre McDonald. Colorado 30, Kansas State 22.
The Buffs’ offense, though, quickly answered. A 24-yard pass from Hawkins to Toney Clemons moved the ball out to the 49-yard line. Then Rodney Stewart, who had a career-high 195 yards on 34 carries, scampered for a 51-yard touchdown with 2:46 to play in the third quarter. Order had been restored: Colorado 37, Kansas State 22.
Kansas State was not done, yet, however. A 12-play, 80-yard drive which stretched into the early fourth quarter, once again brought the Wildcats to within one score. On fourth-and-goal from the Colorado 16-yard line, Coffman hit Aubrey Quarles for a touchdown with 13:29 left to play.
With Colorado fans concerned about a second collapse in three weeks, the Buff offense shifted into high gear. The Buffs moved 73 yards in only eight plays, with Hawkins hitting Paul Richardson for a three yard touchdown to restore the two score lead. The pass completion was a record setter for both participants, as Cody Hawkins became the first Colorado quarterback to ever throw three touchdown passes in three consecutive games, while Richardson joined Michael Westbrook as the only freshman to have five touchdowns in their first campaign in Boulder.
Still, Kansas State would not quit. Down 44-29, the Wildcats mounted one last charge. It took only 2:15 of clock time for Kansas State to cover 84 yards to once again pull to within a score. The touchdown came – again – on a fourth-and-long, as Carson Coffman hit wide receiver Chris Harper for a 23-yard touchdown on fourth-and-12.
Colorado 44, Kansas State 36, with 6:47 still to play.
Colorado no longer needed points, but did need to burn clock. Scotty McKnight snared a Cody Hawkins offering for a 15-yard gain on third-and-ten to move the chains, but the Buffs could not generate another first down, punting the ball away. Zach Grossnickle, who had struggled throughout the day, had his best punt of the contest, caught for a fair catch at the Kansas State five yard line.
The math for Kansas State was simple. Go 95 yards in three minutes to tie the score and send the game into overtime. The Wildcats did generate two first downs, but only made it as far as their 38 yard line. On fourth-and-six, Colorado finally stopped the Wildcats on a fourth down. Defensive end Josh Hartigan posted his third sack of the afternoon to silence the Kansas State offense once and for all, sacking Collins for a six yard loss. Two kneel downs by Cody Hawkins sealed the victory.
Final Score: Colorado 44, Kansas State 36.
“How ‘bout them Buffaloes!”, exclaimed interim head coach Brian Cabral to open his post-game press conference. “I couldn’t be more proud of our coaches and players by the way they have responded the past tow weeks. You couldn’t have asked for more.”
Cabral certainly couldn’t have asked for much more from the Colorado offense. The Buffs posted a season high 476 yards of total offense, including an eye-opening 251 yards rushing. Rodney Stewart led the way with 195 yards rushing, with Will Jefferson contributing a career-high 73 yards on only five carries. Cody Hawkins continued his fine play in relief of injured Tyler Hansen, connecting on 14-of25 passes for 202 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Cabral probably could have “asked for more” from his defense. Kansas State posted 411 total yards, and scored touchdowns on three successive possessions in the second half when the game was still very much in doubt. Still, the Buff defense did keep Colorado in the game early, as the offense was taking control, and did post six sacks, including the game winner by Josh Hartigan to end the Wildcats’ final threat. The special teams’ play was also spotty, with Zach Grossnickle once again out-played by his counterpart, with the Buffs also giving up a blocked extra point.
Still, there was a good time had by all, especially the seniors, who were able to savor one last win at Folsom Field. “We’ve been through so much and it just feels great,” said senior Scotty McKnight, who bumped the new career touchdown reception standard up to 22. “We’ve come together so much as a team, and to get these two wins, and at least give ourselves a chance to win the game in Lincoln and further prolong our season to a bowl game would be awesome.”
The day was especially bittersweet for senior quarterback Cody Hawkins, who got a hug from his father before taking the field to the loudest cheers offered any senior. Hawkins continued his strong late-season play, becoming the first Colorado quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in three consecutive games. Hawkins was also given the Buffalo Heart Award, the third CU quarterback to be so honored. “It means a lot because I think there are a lot of fans out there who haven’t liked my family too much over the last couple of years,” said Hawkins. “I definitely didn’t expect it, but it’s nice to know you have the respect of the fans.”
The victory gave Colorado a 5-6 overall record, 2-5 in Big 12 play. A victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 finale for both teams would make the Buffs bowl eligible. Interim head coach Brian Cabral, who has been reminding the Buff players of Colorado history the past few weeks, will continue to do so this week. “It’s Big Red. It’s Big Red week,” said Cabral. “They are going to hear a lot about what this week means to this program … The very core of this program is centered around Nebraska.”
A victory would also put an end to one of the last specters hanging over the program from Dan Hawkins’ tenure – the three year long road losing streak. When asked about the Buffs’ road woes, Cabral had a terse reply:
“There are no road woes when you get ready for Nebraska.”
Game Notes –
– The announced attendance of 41,147, in the last home game for the Buffs as a member of the Big 12, was also the smallest crowd to ever attend a Big 12 game at Folsom Field.
– Scotty McKnight only has one record left to obtain. Already the career leader in receptions, McKnight added to his total of career games with at least one reception (47), and took over sole possession of the career touchdown reception record, with 22. McKnight’s four catches for 74 yards gave him 2,511 career receiving yards, passing Charles E. Johnson (2,447; 1990-93) for third place on the all-time list, and placing McKnight within striking distance of the career mark (Rae Carruth had 2,540; Michael Westbrook had 2,548). A 38-yard pass reception total against Nebraska would give McKnight virtually all of the career reception marks at Colorado.
– Rodney Stewart continues to move up the single season and career rushing charts. Stewart’s 195 yards against Kansas State gave him 1,230 yards on the season, now the 7th-highest total in Colorado history. Stewart’s new career total of 2,656 is good enough for 7th-place all-time, with Speedy passing Herchell Troutman (2,487; 1994-97) and James Mayberry (2,544; 1975-78). Stewart now had 14 career 100-yard games, tying him with Rashaan Salaam and Chris Brown on that list (only Eric Bieniemy, who posted 22 career 100-yard games, has posted a higher total).
– Cody Hawkins also made his mark in the record books. His three touchdown performance, as noted, marked the first time a Buff quarterback had three touchdowns in three consecutive games. In order to complete a sweep of career records (Hawkins already has the career passing records for touchdowns, interceptions, and attempts), the senior quarterback would need nine completions and 130 yards against Nebraska in the finale to pass Joel Klatt in both categories.
– Freshman Paul Richardson, with his three yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, became just the second freshman to score five touchdowns in their freshman year, joining Michael Westbrook, who turned the trick in 1991.
– The 44 points scored by Colorado against Kansas State were the most for the Buffs in the series since a 54-7 win in 1992. The combined point total of 80 points is a new record, besting the 77 points scored in the Buffs’ 45-32 victory in 1992.
– With six sacks against Kansas State, the Buffs upped their season total to 33 (15 in the past two weeks). The total matched the 33 put up by the 2002 team, with the Buffs in position to better the best mark in the past 15 years, 37, registered by the 1995 team.
– The longtime series came to a close for the foreseeable future with Colorado holding a 45-20-1 overall lead, with a 28-5 edge in games played in Boulder.
– The two penalties (for five yards) against Kansas State was a season-low for the Buffs in both categories.
– The 476 yards of total offense was a season-high, and the Buffs had now scored in 12 consecutive quarters.