October 11th – at Oklahoma State          No. 20 Oklahoma State 33, No. 24 Colorado 29

From a college football fan’s perspective, the 33-29 victory by No. 20 Oklahoma State over No. 24 Colorado was a great game. Plenty of offense, plenty of big plays by the defenses and special teams, numerous lead changes, and a cliff-hanger ending.

Enthusiasm of the Oklahoma State homecoming crowd was dampened only by intermittent showers on a 70-degree evening in Stillwater. Colorado struck first, completing an 80-yard drive when Marlon Barnes took a pitch from John Hessler and ran it in for an eight yard score. The sell-out crowd (the first non-Oklahoma sell out in eight years) was quieted only briefly, though, as Oklahoma State responded with a drive of their own, converting on the first of four first half field goals.

The only remaining first half highlight for the Buffs came on a 93-yard kickoff return by Ben Kelly after the Cowboys had cut the CU lead to 7-6 in the second quarter. Knocked out at the OSU two yard line, Kelly left the scoring to Marlon Barnes, who jumped over a pile on the goal line to score untouched. The resulting 14-6 Colorado lead was to be the largest for either team throughout the night.

The next 13 points were scored by Oklahoma State, with first half concluding with the Cowboys on top 19-14, courtesy of two more field goals by Oklahoma State kicker Tim Snydes and an interception returned 40 yards for a touchdown by defensive back Kevin Williams. The pick was not difficult, as Buff quarterback John Hessler overthrew Darrin Chiaverini over the middle by a good six feet. But Williams did make the runback exciting, eluding much of the Colorado offense in electrifying the home crowd on the return. The defensive touchdown gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game, and gave Colorado its fourth halftime deficit in five outings.

The second half saw four more lead changes, as the momentum and the score continued to ebb and flow. The Buffs’ offense, shaking out of year-long doldrums, produced its highest point and yardage total of the young season. John Hessler passed for 308 yards and one score, while also contributing a two yard run in the third quarter for another score. Marlon Barnes, who many critics of the offense felt was underutilized, rambled for 45 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns. The Buffs’ other score came on a 73-yard bomb from Hessler to Dwayne Cherrington with 9:46 left in the game.

With Colorado nursing a 29-26 lead late in the game, the Buffs recovered an Oklahoma State fumble at the Buff seven yard line. CU fans breathed a sigh of relief. All the Buffs had to do was run out the clock to escape with the win. On third down, however, Hessler’s pass was intercepted by senior cornerback Maurice Simpson at the Buff 23 yard line. It took only two plays for the Cowboys to score from there, and the Buffs were down 33-29 with 1:56 left in the game.

Fantastic finishes were nothing new in this series (witness the 1981 11-10 win for CU in Boulder; the 25-25 tie in 1982; and the 16-12 nail-biter in Stillwater in 1991), so there was still some hope for the Buffs. Colorado had all three time-outs, and when Ben Kelly returned the kickoff to the Buffs’ 30, everything was in place for the Buffs to pull out the win.

Like the 1997 season in microcosm, though, the comeback was seemingly just not meant to be.

Colorado could advance no further than the Cowboy 46 yard line, leaving John Hessler, for the second consecutive week, to demonstrate that he did not have the arm strength of Kordell Stewart. Hessler’s last-second toss from mid-field fell far short of any CU player, and Oklahoma State and coach Bob Simmons were left to celebrate their first 5-0 start since World War II.

Here is a YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:


Statistics are for losers

The phrase “statistics are for losers”, as I have come to understand it, means that the winners only care about the win, while the losers must console themselves with the stats, reviewing what would’ve, could’ve, and perhaps should’ve been.

Without wanting to or meaning to, the Colorado/Oklahoma State game sent the Sports Information Directors for both schools scurrying to the record books.

For Oklahoma State, it was a gleeful journey:

Best start (5-0) since 1945

First time ranked since 1988

First sellout against an opponent other than OU since 1988

For the Buffs, however, a number of unwanted precedents were set:

First loss in a night game (a span of 11 contests) since 1993

First consecutive losses since 1993

First loss to Oklahoma State since 1988

First losing record since losing the opening game of 1987

First consecutive losses in conference play since 1985

First 0-2 start in conference play since 1983

While all of these stats were difficult to swallow, the hardest for me to take, without question, was that the loss insured that Colorado would fall from the top 25 in the polls for the first time since the end of the 1988 season.

CU’s streak covered 143 consecutive polls, a streak second to only that of Nebraska (in every poll since 1981). Prior to the run of over eight years, the longest streak Colorado had put together was 37 weeks in 1970-73. In falling to 2-3 for the season, the Buffs fell back amongst the “others receiving votes” for the first time since Ronald Reagan was President. In the October 12th Associated Press poll, the Buffs garnered only 15 points, tying them with Alabama for 32nd place. In the coaches’ poll, in 1997 affiliated with ESPN and USA Today, Colorado ended up tied with Clemson for 33rd place on 19 points.

As if to add insult to injury, the loss which removed Colorado from the national picture came at the hands of Oklahoma State, resurgent under former Colorado assistant head coach Bob Simmons. It did not escape the columnists and talk-show hosts in Denver that Simmons had been hand-picked as the successor to Bill McCartney by McCartney himself, only to be passed over by Athletic Director Bill Marolt in favor of Neuheisel. From all appearances, Simmons had the Cowboys on the rise with a 5-0 record in his third season, while Colorado under Rick Neuheisel was on its way to its worst campaign since at least 1993. It was easy to envision an image of Simmons passing Neuheisel on an elevator, with Simmons going up and Neuheisel going down.

Neuheisel refused to get caught up in the whirlwind: “Well, it just one of those years”, the head coach was quoted as saying after the game, “But, starting today, we’re going to try to turn it around. I don’t know any other way but to just keep fighting, and hopefully we’ll do just that.”

And there was some reason for hope for the 2-3 Buffs.

The Colorado offense had shown some signs of life and unpredictability for the first time all year, and the talent was certainly in place in Boulder. With the October 11th contest, Bob Simmons’ career record rose to 15-14; Neuheisel’s fell to 22-7. The fair-weather fans were after Neuheisel with renewed vigor, but no one could predict the future.

Game Notes … 

– As noted, above, the loss pushed the Buffs out of the polls for the first time since 1988, a run of 143 consecutive weeks. At the time, the streak was one of the top ten such runs in NCAA history.

– When Colorado scored in the third quarter, the Buffs went from a 19-14 deficit to a 20-19 lead. The Buffs then converted a two-point conversion on a John Hessler run. The two-point conversion was the first for the Buffs since 1988.

– Unable to post over 300 yards of total offense for three games, the Colorado offense posted 390 yards against Oklahoma State. The stalwart Colorado defense, though, gave up 377 yards of total offense to Oklahoma State.

– Safety Ryan Sutter led the CU defense, collecting 15 tackles and an interception. Junior defensive end Nick Ziegler collected two sacks and three tackles for loss against the Cowboys, both numbers being season highs for the CU defense.

– The record book only remembers the 99-yard kickoff return Ben Kelly had against Wyoming, as it was returned for a touchdown. But Kelly’s 93-yard return against Oklahoma State certainly padded the statistics. Kelly finished the 1997 season with 25 kickoff returns for 777 yards, an impressive 31.1 yards per return average. At the end of the season, Kelly received not only first-team All-Big 12 honors as a kick returner, but a first-team All-American nod from The Sporting News.

– The 73-yard touchdown pass from John Hessler to Dwayne Cherrington proved to be the longest play from scrimmage for Colorado in the 1997 season.

– The victory over Colorado in 1997 proved to be the high-water mark for former CU assistant coach Bob Simmons. After the big win over the Buffs, Oklahoma State rose to No. 12 in the polls. The Cowboys could not sustain the success, though, losing three of their next four games. A 33-20 loss to Purdue in the Sun Bowl gave Oklahoma State an 8-4 final record, and a No. 24 final ranking. Oklahoma State would not return to a bowl game until 2002, two seasons after Bob Simmons was fired. In six seasons in Stillwater, Simmons compiled a 30-38 overall record (1-3 against Colorado).


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