Night Lights

October 22, 1988, marked a significant date in the history of Colorado football.

On that date, the Buffs played a night game at home for the first time ever. Portable lights were brought in for the event, only serving to further hype the contest. The matchup, carried nationally by ESPN, pitted the 5-1 Buffs against another 5-1 team, the Oklahoma Sooners.

The Sooners were ranked 8th nationally, having lost only to 5th-ranked USC. Oklahoma, despite carrying the identical record as Colorado, was seen as a far superior team. As if to prove the point, Oklahoma had so dominated its opponent the week before the Colorado game that the Sooners actually did Colorado a favor. While the Buffs were playing Kansas, Oklahoma was destroying the Jayhawks’ in-state rival, Kansas State. The Sooners ran up a score of 70-24, and in so doing ran the ball 72 times for a staggering 768 yards. Oklahoma=s 768 yards on the ground bested the Sooners= effort against the Buffs in 1980, when Oklahoma posted 758 yards in the infamous 82-42 rout.

While it felt good to be out of the record books for such an inauspicious notation of defensive ineptitude, the record-setting effort could hardly have been of little comfort to the 1988 Colorado defensive team and coaches. Trying to figure out a way to stop quarterback Charles Thompson and running back Eric Mitchel from executing the Sooner wishbone would be a difficult task.

Whether or not the sun was still out.

October 22nd – Boulder           No. 8 Oklahoma 17, Colorado 14

A 22-yard field goal by Oklahoma kicker R.D. Lasher with 8:14 remaining proved the difference as the Sooners held on to defeat Colorado, 17-14. In the first night game in Folsom Field history, 49,716 were on hand along with a national ESPN audience to see the Buffs give the 8th-ranked Sooners all they could handle.

After spotting Oklahoma a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, Colorado scored the next 14 points of the contest. Colorado junior kicker Ken Culbertson booted two first quarter field goals to pull the Buffs to within 7-6. Then, after an Oklahoma fumble early in the second, Colorado marched 55 yards in just three plays, capped off by a 24-yard touchdown run by Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy=s score and a two-point conversion pass from Sal Aunese to tight end John Perak put the Buffs up 14-7 … Colorado’s first lead over Oklahoma since 1976.

The lead was short-lived.

On the Buffs= next possession, quarterback Sal Aunese was intercepted on the Buff 28-yard line. Oklahoma quickly took advantage, as Sooner running back Anthony Stafford scored from two yards out to tie the score at half, 14-14.

After a scoreless third quarter, Oklahoma put together a game-winning, 71-yard drive together to start the fourth. Colorado had two chances late to tie the game, including a 62-yard field goal attempt by Culbertson with 29 seconds remaining which drifted off to the right.

Eric Bieniemy led all rushers with 114 yards, his fifth 100-yard effort of the season. It was not enough, though, as the Buffs fell to Oklahoma for the 12th consecutive season.

The Aclose but no cigar@ effort against the Sooners pushed the Buffs further from the goal of a national ranking as the Buffs fell to 27th overall in the AP poll. In the coaches= poll, which recognized the top 25 teams, the 5-2 Buffs clung to the final poll position. With wins over Iowa State (4-3) and Missouri (2-3-1), Colorado had a chance to build some momentum before facing Nebraska in Lincoln.

A bowl game and a winning season were still realistic goals for the 5-2 Buffs, but only if the coaches and players could shake off the heartbreak of the near miss against Oklahoma.

Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

Game Notes … 

– The win was the 12th-straight for the Sooners against the Buffs, but the three-point loss was the closest in that span. The only other game within two touchdowns was the 41-28 Oklahoma win in 1983.

– Freshman defensive back Deon Figures made his first career start against Oklahoma. Figures would go on to become one of the all-time greats at Colorado, earning first-team All-American honors in 1992, along with becoming the first Buff to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 1992.

– Colorado, a week after gaining zero yards through the air against Kansas, had 184 yards passing against Oklahoma, compared to 155 yards rushing, marking only the second time since 1984 in which the Buffs passed for more yards than they rushed. Meanwhile Oklahoma, from which the Buffs had borrowed the wishbone, threw the ball only six times against the Buffs, completing only one pass (for 19 yards).

– Oklahoma kept the Buffs at bay by maintaining possession, holding the ball for 35:55, to only 24:05 for Colorado.

– Ken Culbertson’s 62-yard field goal, if it had gone through, would have been the longest field goal in Colorado history by four yards (Jerry Hamilton had a 58-yarder against Iowa State in 1981), though it would have only tied the longest field goal made against Colorado (by Missouri’s Tom Whelihan in Columbia in 1986).

– Linebacker Kanavis McGhee had a big day against Oklahoma, recording 23 tackles, 15 solo. For his efforts, McGhee was named the Big Eight Defensive Player-of-the-Week. McGhee, in his sophomore season, would go on to earn first-team All-Big Eight and second-team All-American honors in 1988.

– Oklahoma came to Boulder as the 8th-ranked team in the nation, and, after a 17-14 scare, remained 8th in the polls the following week. A 7-3 loss to No. 7 Nebraska three weeks relegated the Sooners to the Citrus Bowl, where Oklahoma fell, 13-6, to No. 13 Clemson. Oklahoma, with a 9-3 overall record, finished 14th in the final poll of the 1988 season.



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