October 28th – at Oklahoma          No. 3 Colorado 20, Oklahoma 3

Colorado used a stifling defense and just enough offense to take a 20-3 decision over Oklahoma in one of the biggest wins in Colorado football history.

Raising its season record to 8-0 for the first time in sixty-two years, the Buffs gave notice to future opponents that its defense was just as good as its offense.  Colorado held the Sooners to only 248 yards of total offense, including completions on only three-of-22 passes in the stiff afternoon breeze at Memorial Stadium.

For much of the first half, it appeared the game might end in a scoreless tie.  Each team gained only 43 yards of total offense in the first stanza.  Midway through the second quarter, though, the Buffs put together a drive of 50 yards in 11 plays, with Ken Culbertson connecting from 30 yards out to give the Buffs a 3-0 lead, their first lead over Oklahoma in 13 years.

(I’ll pause for a moment to let you read that again. You read it right – it was the Buffs first lead over Oklahoma in 13 years).

After the field goal, the Buff defense forced a three-and-out possession for the Sooners, giving the Colorado offense the opportunity to take control of the game for good.  On first-and-ten from the Colorado 47-yard line, quarterback Darian Hagan took off on an option run down the right sideline, gaining 39 yards to the Oklahoma 14.

Several plays later, on third-and-goal from the one-yard line, Hagan took off to his left.  Just as he was being hit, Hagan pitched the ball over the head of an Sooner defender to an unguarded J.J. Flannigan.

Touchdown, Colorado.

The Flannigan score allowed the Buffs to carry a 10-0 lead into halftime.

Oklahoma, though down, was a proud program with talented players.  In the third quarter the Sooners threatened, only to have senior linebacker Michael Jones stop Sooner quarterback Steve Collins for no gain on fourth-and-two at the Colorado 25.  Later, the Sooners drove again, putting together an 11-play drive.  The drive again stalled, however, and Oklahoma was forced to settle for a 33-yard field goal on the third play of the fourth quarter.

The Buffs were now up by only one score, 10-3, and 14:21 still remained to be played.  Fortunately for Colorado fans, the Buffs’ players responded like champions.  A 44-yard kickoff return by Mike Pritchard set up the Buffs near midfield.  Nine plays later, Culbertson connected from 27 yards out, and Colorado was up, 13-3, with 9:49 remaining.

A few series later, a failed 49-yard field goal attempt was Oklahoma’s last gasp.  Late in the fourth, a fumble recovery by senior defensive tackle Arthur Walker led to a satisfying eight-yard touchdown run by Darian Hagan to put the icing on the cake.

High Five in the Produce Aisle

The Colorado win over Oklahoma was one of the most significant in the Buffs’ 100 years of football.  The networks, though, were not impressed.  October 28th was a loaded weekend for college football. No. 1 Notre Dame was playing No. 7 Pittsburgh, while No. 2 Miami squared off against No. 9 Florida State.  Throw in a game pitting No. 6 Alabama on the road against No. 14 Penn State, and, objectively, one had to agree that the Colorado game against an unranked Sooner team was not the most important to college football fans.

Fortunately, KWGN-TV in Denver was picking up the game.

Channel 2 was not one of the network stations, which actually worked to my advantage (since the game would not be pre-empted by a more significant game).  My cable network in Bozeman picked up Channel 2, so I was able to watch the game live.  The ebbs and flows of the game were evident in my video tape of the game.  I intended to pause the VCR during commercials so as to save enough tape to put two games on one six hour tape.  When things are going well on the field for the Buffs, the editing is evident.  When the game is not going so well, though, the commercials play on unimpeded.

Suffice it to say, my editing improved greatly in the second half.

Still, having yet to recruit any Bozemanites to the faith, I watched the game at home alone.  It lessened the win somewhat not to be able to celebrate the win with someone else.  Having neglected my normal Saturday chores in deference to anticipation of the Colorado game (and all of the pregame shows on ESPN and CNN), I took off for the grocery store late Saturday afternoon.  There, to my pleasant surprise, I spotted a fellow member of the Buff Nation wearing a Colorado hat and jacket.  Decked out in black and gold myself, I approached.  The reaction I received was a grin and a: “did you see the game?”  I nodded in the affirmative.  We exchanged high fives right there in the produce aisle.

We went our separate ways moments later, each with a feeling that the day was now complete.

Going for the Gold

While Colorado was handling Oklahoma, No. 4 Nebraska was taking care of business against Iowa State, 49-17.  Elsewhere, No. 1 Notre Dame dominated Pittsburgh, 45-7, but No. 2 Miami fell to Florida State, 24-10.  As a result, both Colorado and Nebraska moved up a spot, with Colorado the new No. 2 team; Nebraska the new No. 3 team.

Up next on the calendar? Nebraska at Colorado.

The eyes of the college football world would now focus on Boulder, Colorado.

For college football in 1989, the Colorado/Nebraska game was the “Game of the Century”. In fact, it was not even the “Game of the Year”, as earlier in the season No. 1 Notre Dame had squared off against No. 2 Michigan.  In Colorado, though, it was, in fact, the “Game of the Century”.  Never in 100 years of Colorado football had so much been at stake.  The opportunity to defeat the hated Cornhuskers, capture the Big Eight title, and remain in line for a chance to play for the national championship were all on the line.  The game had been a sell out since July.  Tickets with a face value of $25.00 were selling for $250.00.  Even Bill McCartney could not downplay the game.  “This is the biggest game I’ve been involved in as a coach,” said McCartney.  “Absolutely”.

Both teams were 8-0, 4-0 in Big Eight play.  Nebraska was No. 1 in the nation carrying the ball, averaging 400 yards rushing per game.  Colorado was ranked No. 3 at 376 yards per contest.  Nebraska’s defense was ranked 8th nationally; Colorado’s 19th.  “This is certainly the best Colorado team I’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years – and maybe the best I’ve ever seen,” said Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne.  “I don’t see anything they don’t do well.  It’s a complete package.”

As if the hype was not enough to whip the home crowd into a frenzy, Colorado decided to honor its All-Century team at halftime.  Included in the honorees were Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, Hale Irwin, Bobby Anderson, and Dave Logan.  Honorees from the McCartney era were Mickey Pruitt and Eric Bieniemy.  All that 1989 had come to mean – the 100 years, the first legitimate shot at a national title, honoring Sal Aunese – all would come down to one afternoon in Folsom Field.

Game Notes –

– Oklahoma ran 71 plays on the afternoon; 34 of those went for zero or minus yardage.

– The 1989 win over the Sooners in Norman was the first for the Buffs against Oklahoma on the road since 1965, a 13-0 victory.

– The Buffs also erased another Sooner record which had lasted since 1965. Colorado had a 10-0 lead at halftime, the first time an opponent (also Colorado) had shut out the Sooners in the first half of play in 24 years.

– Darian Hagan rushed for 107 yards against the Sooners (on 21 carries), with J.J. Flannigan adding 103 yards (on 25 carries). The Oklahoma game marked the fourth time in 1989, and the second game in succession, in which two Colorado players rushed for over 100 yards in the same game.

– Only one player on the 1989 Colorado roster, senior safety Bruce Young, was even alive in 1965, which was the last time Colorado posted a victory over Oklahoma in Norman. Young, born in 1963, did not go to college right out of high school, working in his father’s construction business before deciding to attend school.

– Senior defensive tackle Arthur Walker had twelve tackles against Oklahoma, including eight solo tackles and a sack. For leading the dominant effort against the Sooners, Walker was named the Big Eight Defensive Player-of-the-Week.

– On a windy day in Norman, junior punter Tom Rouen showed why he would go on to be named a consensus All-American. Both Rouen and his Oklahoma counter-part had five punts in the defensive struggle. Rouen’s average of 49.6 yards per kick was 66 total yards better than the 35.3 yard average by the Sooners. Rouen had his longest punt on the road all season against Oklahoma – 59 yards into the wind.

 AP Poll – October 30, 1989

1. Notre Dame (58)

2. Colorado (2)

3. Nebraska

4. Michigan

5. Alabama

6. Florida State

7. Miami

8. Illinois

9. USC

10. Tennessee

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