November 8th – at Iowa State           Colorado 43, Iowa State 38

At the beginning of the 1997 campaign, CU’s upcoming games against Michigan, Texas, and Nebraska games were the ones which jumped off of the calendar for most Buff fans. The November road game against Iowa State, meanwhile, was one game which was circled as a “gimme”. Iowa State was 2-9 in 1996, and that was with running back sensation Troy Davis and his 2,185 yards rushing. When the Cyclones opened the 1997 campaign 1-7, few were surprised.

The Buffs, 4-4 on the 1997 season, certainly needed a breather game in order to set up season-ending clashes with top ten Kansas State and Nebraska. Instead, the Buffs had to mount a near-record setting rally to escape with a 43-38 victory.

One short week earlier, a week before the Iowa State game, I had looked at the Missouri game as “one for the polls” (CU was just outside the rankings, at No. 26 in the AP poll, and would have rejoined the rankings with a win), with the Iowa State game to be “one for the bowls”, as with a sixth win the Buffs would qualify for postseason competition.

Missouri had not cooperated with the plan (Colorado disappeared from even the “others receiving votes” with the home loss). Adding to CU’s misfortune, no one had bothered to inform the Cyclones that they were expected to simply play victim.

Perhaps smelling the blood from the wounds inflicted on the Colorado earlier in the year, Iowa State came out to prepared to beat the 4-4 Buffs, and all but eliminate Colorado from bowl consideration. Jumping out to a 28-10 halftime lead, Iowa State in thirty minutes had scored more points than in all but one of the Cyclones’ 1997 games (a 53-29 drubbing at the hands of equally poor Minnesota).

As Missouri had the week earlier, Iowa State kept the Buffs from scoring by the most effective means possible … hanging onto the football.

The Cyclones took the opening kickoff and kept the ball for the next 11 plays, driving 72 yards for a 7-0 lead. After CU went three-and-out on its first possession, Iowas State came right back with another 11-play scoring drive, this time covering 82 yards. Down 14-0, the Buffs received a lift from Ben Kelly, who was continuing to stay amongst the nation’s leaders in kick returns. Kelly took the ensuing kickoff at the CU 19, and traveled 58 yards before being brought down. Kelly’s return placed the Buffs in excellent scoring position at the Iowa State 23 yard line, but Colorado was unable to capitalize. The Buffs actually retreated four yards before Jeremy Aldrich booted a 45-yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-3.

Matters did not improve in the second quarter. A five yard touchdown run by Herchell Troutman early in the second quarter brought the Buffs back to within a score, at 14-10, but then the Cyclones posted two touchdowns of their own before the break. A 14-play, 65-yard drive produced one touchdown to up the lead to 21-10. Then, just before halftime, Dustin Avey picked off a John Hessler pass and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown and an 18-point advantage.

At halftime, with his team down 28-10, CU head coach Rick Neuheisel’s words were few: ” ‘Now or never.’ Simple. ‘Now or never,’ “.

The Buffs responded by coming back to win from the third largest deficit ever (Colorado had rallied from 20 points down to defeat Missouri 28-27 in 1978 and from a 19-point deficit to beat Kansas State 20-19 in 1961).

Colorado opened the third quarter with an 80-yard drive, capped by a Marcus Stiggers reverse for a score from 21 yards out. Iowa State countered, though, after an errant Hessler pitch was recovered at the CU 11 yard line, with a touchdown coming two plays later.

Instead of folding, the Buffs went on to score the next 20 points of the game. Two short runs, one by Dwayne Cherrington and the other by John Hessler, made the score 35-31 with 14:12 still to play. The Buffs then took their first lead of the game on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Hessler to Javon Green with 9:04 to play. The lead stayed at two points a few moments later, however, after Jeremy Aldrich missed a 35-yard extra point attempt after Green was flagged for excessive celebration.

After coming all the way back from 28-10 (and 35-17) to take a 37-35 lead, the Buffs surrendered yet another long drive to Iowa State. The Cyclones re-claimed the lead on a 24-yard field goal to go up 38-37 with less than three minutes left in the game.

Crunch time.

And once again, Ben Kelly again came to the rescue. A 33-yard return set up the Buffs at their own 48-yard line. On a fourth-and-ten three plays later, Hessler hit Chris Anderson on a 16 yard gain. Dwayne Cherrington capped off the comeback win with a one-yard run with :09 left on the clock to put the Buffs up for good, 43-38.

With the last second win, Colorado kept alive its faint bowl hopes. 5-4 on the season, Colorado would need to defeat either Kansas State or Nebraska to qualify for post-season play.

The task ahead for CU was straight-forward. Defeat 10th-ranked Kansas State in Manhattan, and/or No.3-ranked Nebraska at home, and CU would go bowling.

Two losses would end the Buffs’ season at Thanksgiving for the first time since 1987.

Game Notes –

– While not exactly a confidence builder, the win against Iowa State did extend a streak which had landed CU in the NCAA record book, being the 14th consecutive Buff victory in the series (14 straight wins over a major opponent ranked the Buffs’ fifth on the “Most Current Wins Over a Major Opponent in a Series” category. Ranked above the Buffs were Notre Dame over Navy (34 wins after the 1997 21-17 Irish win); Nebraska over both Kansas and Kansas State (extended to 29 seasons in 1997); and Iowa over Iowa State (up to 15 after the 63-20 Hawkeye win in 1997).

– Iowa State out-gained Colorado, 154 yards to 13, in the first quarter. From there on, the Buffs out-gained the Cyclones, 466-157. The Buffs’ 479 yards of total offense were a season high,

– John Hessler finished with 24 completions in 40 attempts, good for 299 yards, with both attempts and completions being highs for the year.

– Herchell Troutman led the rushing attack with 19 carries for 108 yards, Troutman’s only 100-yard rushing effort of the season.

– Marcus Stiggers’ 21-yard scoring run, coming on a reverse, proved to be the longest scoring rush from scrimmage for the Buffs all season.

– Three players earned their first career starts against Iowa State. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Javon Green started for the injured Phil Savoy, collecing four of his eight catches for the season, with those four catches going for 92 yards and a touchdown. Freshman linebacker Ty Gregorak and sophomore linebacker Rashidi Barnes also had their first career starts against Iowa State. Gregorak, who would go on start the final three games as the only true freshman to see action in 1997, finished the Iowa State game with seven tackles (five solo).

– Iowa State would not recover from its loss to Colorado. Facing the same two final foes as the Buffs, but in reverse order, the Cyclones surrendered humbly to Nebraska, 77-14, and to Kansas State, 28-3, to finish the 1997 season with a 1-10 overall record.


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