“Fightin’ Words”

The lopsided win over Northeast Louisiana raised the 3-0 Buffs to No. 7 in the nation.  The next two opponents, though, would show if Colorado’s rise in the polls was merited.

The Aggies of Texas A&M were coming to Boulder for a top ten showdown, the first of Neuheisel’s coaching career.  Undefeated on the young season, Texas A&M featured Heisman-trophy candidates Leeland McElroy at halfback and Corey Pullig at quarterback.  In dominating Tulsa, 52-9, the week before the Colorado game, McElroy accounted for 285 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, while Pullig threw three passes for scores.

Rick Neuheisel, for one, was not intimidated by Texas A&M.

“We (the Colorado coaching staff and players) all have a great deal of respect for (Texas A&M)”, said the Buffs’ head coach.  “But we feel like we’re right with ’em and we’re not going to back down to anybody.  And if those are fightin’ words, so be it.  We’re ready to play Texas A&M.”

 September 23rd – Boulder          No. 7 Colorado 29, No. 3 Texas A&M 21

A Folsom Field record crowd of 53,849 and a national ABC television audience looked on as the Colorado Buffaloes lost their leader in the first quarter, only to have a local boy turn out to be the hero in a huge 29-21 win over Texas A&M.

Back-up quarterback John Hessler, from nearby Brighton, Colorado, was called on to play against the vaunted Aggie defense after starter Koy Detmer went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter … and Hessler came through.

Hessler, backed by a staunch effort from the defense and some crafty play calling by Neuheisel, finished the day with adequate numbers (10-of-20 passing for 177 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions).  But the real story was how well Hessler, a red-shirt sophomore, stood up to the pressure.  Hessler came into the contest having thrown only 15 passes in his career, none with the first offensive unit.  “It was real nerve-racking when I first went in,” understated Hessler.  “I missed a lot of passes early, but I think Neuheisel had a lot of confidence in me to run the offense.”

How much confidence?

When asked how much of the offensive game plan was used with Hessler, Neuheisel responded:  “Maybe twenty percent.  Twenty percent of the offense that we practiced for the game we kept.”

That twenty percent proved to be enough.

The day started poorly for starting quarterback Koy Detmer. On a sack less than five minutes into the game, Detmer fumbled, with David Maxwell recovering the fumble for a 7-0 Texas A&M lead. Two series later, Detmer was marching the Buffs down the lead for a tying score, but was injured on a play which resulted in an 18-yard completion to James Kidd and a first-and-goal at the Aggie seven yard line.

Not risking anything, Hessler was given the assignment of handing off three times.  The net result was six yards in losses and a 30-yard field goal by Neil Voskeritchian.  Colorado still trailed, 7-3, and an opportunity appeared to have been lost along with the Buffs’ quarterback.

Fate shined, however, on Hessler and the Buffs just a few moments later.  On Texas A&M’s next possession, a Corey Pullig pass was misplayed by receiver Albert Connell.  Sophomore cornerback Elton Davis snatched the tipped ball, returning the interception 33 yards to the Aggie one yard line.  Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Hessler snuck it in for the Buffs’ first lead of the day, 10-7.  Later in the second, Hessler led the Buffs on a 90-yard drive, highlighted by a 58-yard bomb to receiver Rae Carruth.  After Hessler again did the honors, this time around end from three yards out, Colorado was on top, 17-7.

Texas A&M hadn’t been ranked third in the nation on a whim, however, and, sandwiched between a 46-yard field goal by Voskeritchian, put up two touchdowns to take a 21-20 lead over the Buffs midway through the third quarter.  It could have been worse.  After a Colorado fumble, A&M had the ball at the Buff 37-yard line.  Senior defensive lineman Kerry Hicks swung the momentum moments later when he blocked an A&M field goal attempt. The score remained 21-20, Aggies.

Re-enter the hero of the hour, John Hessler.

Two drives later, Hessler led the Buffs down the field to take the lead for good.  Capping a 61-yard drive, Hessler hit tight end Tennyson McCarty from 20 yards out for the go-ahead score.  The pass and catch were the first respective such touchdowns for both players.  McCarty’s touchdown gave Colorado a 26-21 lead, which remained unchanged after a two-point conversion failed.

The Buffs were on top, but celebration was premature.  Most of the fourth quarter still remained.

The rest of the contest was left to the defense, aided by a 40-yard field goal by Voskeritchian to give the Buffs an eight point cushion, 29-21.  The defense, highlighted by a knockout hit by freshman linebacker Hannibal Navies on Leeland McElroy (which kept McElroy out of the game for the next few plays), would not be bested, and Hessler was left to hold the ball on the game’s final drive.

Credit was given to the defense as it was due.  McElroy, who entered the game with an NCAA-leading 322 all-purpose yards per game average, was held to an un-Heisman like 169 yards on 23 rushes, three kickoff returns, and one pass reception.  The “Swarm Troopers”, as the Buff defense had been labeled, was up to the task.  “There was a lot of hype coming into this game,” said Colorado defensive end Greg Jones.  “We were tired of hearing about McElroy and especially about how good A&M’s defense was and the fact that we weren’t getting any credit ourselves.  We just wanted to show everyone we could play defense.”

Colorado was now 4-0.  The exciting win over the Aggies boosted Colorado to a No. 4 national ranking.  Unfortunately, there was no rest for the Buffs and their injured quarterback as the Big Eight Conference schedule opened.  Oklahoma, resurgent under first-year head coach Howard Schnellenberger, was 3-0 after dispatching San Diego State, SMU, and North Texas in three home games.  The pollsters placed OU at No. 10 nationally.

All eyes would be on the backup from Brighton, John Hessler.  Could he repeat his magical performance as the starter?

 Game Notes –

– The record crowd of 53,849 bested the 53,553 which had witnessed the Colorado game against the No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in 1978 (a 28-7 loss). The record would stand, though, less than a season, as 54,063 would be on hand to witness the Colorado/Nebraska game just a month later.

– For his efforts (10-for-20 for 177 yards and a touchdown), backup quarterback John Hessler was named the Big Eight offensive Player-of-the-Week.

– For his efforts (12 tackles, eight unassisted – two tackles for loss – two third down stops), linebacker Matt Russell was named the Big Eight defensive Player-of-the-Week.

– In the final season of the Southwest Conference, Texas A&M would post a 5-2 conference record. The Aggies were invited to play Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, and, after a 22-20 victory concluded a 9-3 season, Texas A&M finished the 1995 season with a final ranking of No. 15.


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