September 27th – Boulder          No. 10 Arizona 24, Colorado 21

A year earlier, the Arizona Wildcats entered the game against Colorado 3-0, only to be stunned by the Buffs, 14-13, in Tucson.  In 1986, Arizona, 3-0 once again, came to Boulder determined to record the Wildcats’ first victory over the Buffs in 13 attempts.  The tenth-ranked Wildcats would not be denied, though the hard-fought 24-21 win over the Buffs was anything but easy.  The Buffs led throughout the game, but Arizona took the lead from the Buffs when it mattered, scoring on a 67-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Alfred Jenkins to flanker Jeff Fairholm late in the fourth quarter.

For most of the day, it appeared that the Buffs would pull out their first win of the season.  Freshman halfback O. C. Oliver, who had made a name for himself in the Ohio State game in leading the team with 83 rushing yards, scored the first two touchdowns of his Colorado career, putting the Buffs up 21-12 in the third quarter on a two yard run.  Later, after freshman Jeff Campbell electrified the home crowd with a 41-yard run to the Wildcat 39, yard line, all looked good for the Buffs’ upset.

Too bad there were still 20 minutes left to play.

On the very next play, the Buffs’ offensive line, which was forced at times to play three freshmen due to injuries, broke down, enabling Arizona to force quarterback Mark Hatcher into a fumble.  The fumble led to a field goal which cut the Buffs’ lead to 21-15.

From then on, the Buffs could do little right, including two penalties near their goal line which forced punter Barry Helton on fourth down to step out of the end zone, taking a safety which cut the Buffs’ lead to 21-17.

Still, the Buffs had a four point lead, and the Buffs’ defense took the field late in the game with a great deal of confidence.  Only 6:34 remained on the game clock.  Arizona was backed up to its own nine yard line.  The Wildcats had struggled against the Buffs’ defense all day.  Four plays later, though, the Wildcats were in the lead.  The 67-yard scoring pass with 4:45 left closed out the scoring.

24-21, Arizona.

“It’s ironic,” said Arizona coach Larry Smith after the game, “that was the exactly the same pass we threw last year that they intercepted to shut us down.  It was exactly the same call.”

In 1985, the Buffs were able to make the plays they needed to at the right time, including the timely interception in Tucson.  In 1986, the Colorado Buffaloes, for the third week in a row, had failed in the fourth quarter to make the big play.

0-4. No wins. No hope?

The motto for 1986 for Colorado was, “The Buffs are Back.”

Back to what? To 1980, when the Buffs had started 0-7? Or to 1984, when the Buffs kicked off the season 0-5?  Both seasons, the Buffs finished 1-10.

The Buffs’ 7-5 record in 1985 was looking more and more like an aberration.

Bad times had returned to Colorado football.  Quarterback Mark Hatcher tried to remain upbeat.  “We know we’re a good team.  We know we’re going to win some games.  We can still repeat our season of last year.”  Hatcher was then reminded that to match the victory total of 1985, the 0-4 Buffs would likely have to defeat either top-ranked Oklahoma or third-ranked Nebraska.  “Yeah. Exactly.” was Hatcher’s response.

Beat Oklahoma or Nebraska?  The 0-4 Buffs?

Little did we know …

Game Notes –

– Quarterback Mark Hatcher threw for a career-high 134 yards, including a 68-yard completion to tight end Jon Embree.

– Freshman halfback O.C. Oliver ran for only 44 yards against Arizona, but did score his first two career touchdowns as a Buff. Oliver would go on to lead the team in rushing in 1986, going for 668 yards on 136 carries, just short of five yards per carry.

– Freshman offensive tackle Greg Knight made his first career start against Arizona, replacing injured tackle Pat Ryan. Knight would be injured during practice the following week, and would miss the remainder of the 1986 season.

– Arizona, unranked to start the season, rose quickly in the polls. Wins over Colorado State and Oregon (teams which had beaten Colorado) pushed the Wildcats to 3-0 before the game against the Buffs. Arizona would remain ranked the remainder of the season, with losses to UCLA, USC, and Stanford offset by a win over then No. 4 Arizona State. Arizona, at 8-3, was invited to play in the Aloha Bowl against North Carolina. A 30-21 victory over the Tar Heels in Larry Smith’s last game coaching Arizona (Smith would go on to take the head coaching job at USC), gave Arizona a 9-3 record and a No. 11 final ranking.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *