October 1st – at Colorado State           Colorado 27, Colorado State 23

For the third straight game, Colorado rallied from a fourth quarter deficit to pull out a win, this time a 27-23 win over Colorado State in Fort Collins.

Hosting the Buffs for only the second time since 1957, the Rams were not gracious to their guests, running out to a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. It took a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior Buff linebacker Don DeLuzio to put the Buffs on the board, making the score 13-7. By half, the Coloradso ship had apparently been righted, with a 22-yard touchdown run by Eric Bieniemy and a 28-yard field goal by Ken Culbertson giving the Buffs a 17-13 advantage.

After a second Culbertson field goal, this time from 48 yards out, gave Colorado a 20-13 advantage late in the third quarter, the Rams scored the next ten points of the game. A 49-yard filed goal and a 34-yard touchdown halfback pass off of a reverse gave Colorado State a 23-20 lead.

Just 9:13 remained.

Matters looked bleak for the Buffs as the Rams were driving with just over four minutes remaining. A decision to go for a first down on fourth-and-two from the Colorado 29-yard line by Colorado State head coach Leon Fuller proved costly, however, as Alfred Williams sacked Ram quarterback Scott Molander for a seven-yard loss.

Ten plays and 64 yards later, Buff quarterback Sal Aunese hit wingback Mike Pritchard for a 13-yard touchdown with only 38 seconds remaining on the game clock, giving the Buffs a 27-23 victory.

Colorado had now completed its non-conference slate 4-0. The win over Colorado State placed the Buffs on the verge of a national AP ranking. After accumulating enough votes to merit a 22nd ranking after the Oregon State win, Colorado edged up one more notch to 21st with the last minute escape from Fort Collins.

Up next was Oklahoma State, 3-0 and ranked 13th in the nation. A win at home over the Cowboys would ensure the first national recognition in almost ten years.

It had been a long, slow climb. The national spotlight was there for taking.

But the Buffs were more interested in giving.

Cardiac Kids

Sweating out Colorado victories was a new sensation, especially from a distance of 700 miles.

The Iowa win was a complete surprise, and, to be honest, I had only hoped the Buffs would keep the game close against a team which had started the season in the top ten in the national polls. After all, no McCartney-coached team had ever beaten a ranked team on the road. So when the Buffs ran out to a 14-0 lead early against the Hawkeyes, I was dumbfounded. The next television update was the 14-14 halftime score, and the “I knew it” pessimist in me returned.

The only other update before the game ended was “Iowa 21, Colorado 17”, and I returned to “well, we fought the good fight” mentality. The final score, Colorado 24, Iowa 21, had to be seen in print in the Sunday paper before I would believe it was true.

The Iowa game made the Oregon State and Colorado State games all the more difficult to endure.

The Beavers and Rams were not supposed to be capable of challenging a team which could defeat a ranked team on the road. After the Iowa game, the Colorado score merited more attention on the national networks (though still no television coverage), but that was a double-edged sword. The halftime scores (up 16-7 v. Oregon State, up 17-13 v. Colorado State) were closer than desired, but acceptable.

When the Buffs fell behind each opponent, though, the networks (I am talking, for the most part, about ABC and its game-of-the-week) were quick to spot the potential upset. When the Buffs retook the lead late, though, no special attention was given. For three straight weeks, then, the first time I was aware that the Buffs had rallied for victory was after the final score was posted.

Tense … but exciting.

Colorado was now 4-0 for the first time since before I had traveled to Boulder for my freshman year. The CNN/USA Today poll had the Buffs ranked 19th in the nation; the AP 21st. A win over Barry Sanders and 13th-ranked Oklahoma State would mean a national ranking, a milestone in the McCartney era.

I couldn’t sit home for that, waiting for updates while watching whichever game the networks had decided Montanans would be most interested in.

I made the pilgrimage to Boulder for the October 8th match-up. Brad had managed to score us some midfield seats in the Senior section (though I was now two years removed from being a student; Brad one). Just like 1986, when we had front row seats to witness the 20-10 win over Nebraska, we wanted to be there as McCartney and the Buffs surpassed the latest challenge. Sure, Oklahoma State was 3-0, and was averaging 53 points a game, but this was the Buffs’ year.

What we witnessed, though, was not the accomplishment of a goal.

Rather, we were in the audience for a frustrating loss of an opportunity.

Game Notes –

– The Buffs were out-gained by an opponent for the first time in 1988, and the Rams did it by a wide margin. Colorado State had 453 yards of total offense, to just 280 for Colorado.

– Don DeLuzio’s 58-yard interception return for a touchdown was a long one, but nowhere near the Colorado record. In 1938, Dick Kearns returned an interception 102 yards in a game against Denver University.

– A series of “longest” records were set in the Colorado State game. In addition to DeLuzio posting the longest interception return of the season, M.J. Nelson had the longest kickoff return of 1988 (39 yards), Jo Jo Collins had the longest punt return (42 yards), Keith English had the longest punt (a whopping 77 yards), and Ken Culbertson had the longest field goal (48 yards).

– After three straight weeks of rushing for over 100 yards per game, Eric Bieniemy was held to only 66 yards on 22 carries by Colorado State.

– Colorado State gave Colorado a scare, but 1988 was not a good season in Ft. Collins. The Rams came into the game with an 0-3 record, and would win only one game in 1988, a 13-7 win against San Diego State in game seven. A 1-10 season, after a 1-11 season in 1987, was enough to earn head coach Leon Fuller a pink slip. In seven seasons, Fuller went 25-55, and would be replaced by Earle Bruce in 1989.


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