“Is it too much to ask?”
It all seemed predestined; preordained.
Colorado had come back from a 24-14 deficit to lead Georgia in the fourth quarter, 29-27. The Buffs had the ball and the lead, and had taken almost nine minutes off of the fourth quarter clock in driving slowly, methodically – painfully – down the field. Yet just when it looked like Colorado might take the ball down for a game-clinching touchdown, the Buffs stalled.
A missed 52-yard field goal gave the ball back to Georgia at the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line. Over 3 1/2 minutes remained in the game, with one of the premier field goal kickers in the game, Blair Walsh, patrolling the Bulldog sideline, ready to take the field to give Georgia a hard-fought 30-29 victory.
Colorado fans saw it coming.
We had seen it before.
Taking over at their own 35, Georgia did exactly what was expected – take the ball and quickly move into field goal position. Three first downs in only four plays put the Bulldogs at the Colorado 27 yard line. A Georgia field goal was so inevitable (Walsh was 12-for-13 in his career from 40-49 yards out coming into the game) that Dan Hawkins called his first time out of the game with just under two minutes to play.
In the stands, the fans in black, who made up the majority of the 52,855 in Folsom Field, were tense. The fans in red, numerous and loud, were shifting nervously in anticipation.
Everyone knew what was about to happen. Buff fans were powerless to intervene.
Or perhaps not.
Just before the start of the second half, when the players were warming up before resuming play, I was staring down at the field. “What are you thinking?”, Brad asked. “Without two or three turnovers, I don’t see how we can stay in this game”, I replied. True, Colorado trailed only 17-14. The offense had put together two impressive drives early, and the defense had made two stops – one by interception; the other by missed field goal – in the waning moments of the second quarter, to keep the game close.
Still, Georgia’s offense was on a roll, while the Colorado offense had spent much of the second quarter in neutral. Bulldog wide receiver A.J. Green ran free in the Colorado secondary in the second quarter, and the Buffs seemed powerless to stop him. “A.J. Green! A.J. Green!” chanted the Georgia faithful, deliriously happy that their future NFL first round pick, suspended for the first four games of the season, was back on the field of play. Green had 109 yards of total offense – and two touchdowns – in the second quarter alone. Georgia had 17 points, but that total was sure to rise in the second half.
When Georgia quickly scored a touchdown to open the second half, dread came over the “Blackout” Buff fans. A 14-3 lead had become a 24-14 deficit.
The Buff players, though, to their credit, showed grit and determination. Colorado fought right back. The Buffs answered the Georgia score with a touchdown of their own to open the second half, then took the lead later in the quarter. With a two-point conversion and a Georgia field goal factored in, the score stood at Colorado 29, Georgia 27, when the Buffs took over with 12:30 to play.
Colorado played keep-away from the Georgia offense for most of the fourth quarter. The Buffs held the ball for almost nine minutes, running off 16 plays – but could not produce a score.
Now, with under two minutes to play, the lead remained at two points. The math was painfully easy – Georgia only needed a field goal to win.
When Colorado called its first time out, there were just under two minutes to play. Despite holding the lead, the move by the Colorado coaches was an acknowledgement of the Buffs’ predicament. Colorado had the lead, but Georgia was in the driver’s seat. If the Buffs didn’t try and stop the clock, the Bulldogs would bleed the clock down to just a few seconds, kick the winning field goal, and go home to Athens with the win. “We kind of knew that if they got the ball down to the 40, that they would have an opportunity to kick a field goal from there,” said Dan Hawkins after the game. “The guy (Walsh) can boom it, so to me it became ‘let’s burn our timeouts right here, so we have plenty of time on the clock if they kick a field goal’ “.
Up in the stands, I turned to Brad. Reminded that I had believed that it would take two or three second half turnovers for the Buffs to win – and yet had produced none in reclaiming the lead – I couldn’t help but mutter …
“Is it too much to ask?”
“Is it too much to ask that the Buffs get one turnover?”
Brad gave me a wry smile. We both knew the answer: Yes, it was too much to ask.
Yet on the very next play, Georgia fumbled. Hysteria reigned in Folsom Field. Pure ecstasy! From the jaws of almost certain defeat, the Buffs were now almost certain victors. A few running plays later, Colorado was victorious, 29-27.
Was the victory attributable to the Buffs’ grit, guile, and determination in coming back from a ten-point deficit?
Was it just dumb luck that Georgia, already in field goal position, fumbled the exchange between the quarterback and the running back?
Or was a higher power, answering a plea from Section 218?
The Buffs were able to run out the clock because there was no time left for Georgia to make a run. A 16-play, nine-minute drive had seen to that. Yet, if Tyler Hansen hadn’t scrambled away from a sure sack on third-and-13 from the Colorado 28-yard line, hitting Rodney Stewart for a 24 yard gain after Stewart made an acrobatic catch, the Buffs would have been forced to punt the ball away with over nine minutes left to play. “I knew he (Tyler Hansen) was going to get it to me,” said Stewart of his leaping catch near midfield to sustain the Buffs’ drive. “I was like, ‘This is the one. This is the one.’ I really wanted the ball, and I was able to go up and get it. I think it was more God than anything.”
We may never know for certain …