September 5th – at Denver           Colorado 42, No. 15 Colorado State 14

Ralphie IV, only 16 months old and a mere 500 pounds, made her debut as the Buffs’ mascot before a crowd of 76,036 in a sold-out Mile High Stadium and a national television audience in the first-ever college football game at Mile High Stadium. The young buffalo looked small and unsure as she made her initial run, but came through nonetheless.

The same could be said for the young Colorado Buffaloes. Only 40 of the 102 players on the Buffs’ roster had ever seen action in a college game before that warm Saturday evening. In all, 12 Colorado players made their first career starts.

Youth was served.

The Buffs dominated, roughing up the beleaguered Rams from Colorado State, 42-14. New quarterback Mike Moschetti was all that the Buffs could have hoped for, completing 21-of-32 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Even more importantly, Moschetti committed no turnovers, and provided the leadership the Buffs had been longing for.

The largest crowd to ever watch a college sporting event in the state of Colorado were on hand to witness the first neutral site game in the 105-year, 70-game history of the series between Colorado and Colorado State, and, has been the case in most of those games (53-15-2), CU came out victorious.

The Buffs, unranked in the preseason for the first time since 1988, raced out to a 13-0 lead. Two Jeremy Aldrich field goals in the first quarter were topped by a 53-yard touchdown pass from Moschetti to Marcus Stiggers early in the second quarter. A 36-yard touchdown pass by the Rams with just over a minute to play before halftime kept the game closer, at 13-7, than it should have been (CSU had only 67 yards of total offense in the first half).

The second half opened with another Ram touchdown, and, suddenly, the green-and-gold half of the stadium was rocking. Colorado State’s 14-13 lead, though, lasted only as long as it took for Moschetti to engineer an eight-play, 79-yard drive. Javon Green caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Moschetti with 7:05 to play in the third quarter, and the Buffs never looked back.

After a three-and-out, CU upped its advantage to 27-14 with an 82-yard punt return by red-shirt freshman Cedric Cormier. The Colorado State offense went nowhere in its next two possessions, and the Buffs put the game away after the Rams muffed a punt on their own 18-yard line. A one-yard scoring run by Dwayne Cherrington (followed by a two-point conversion run, also by Cherrington), gave CU a 35-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. A 15-play, 85-yard drive by the Buffs, taking up over half of the final stanza, resulted in a one-yard touchdown pass from Moschetti to Darrin Chiaverini to complete the rout.

The offense had many stars, headlined by junior running back Dwayne Cherrington’s 100 yards rushing, including a touchdown, and junior wide receiver Marcus Stiggers’ 100 yards receiving, highlighted by the 53-yard touchdown pass from Mike Moschetti in the second quarter for the game’s first touchdown. The defense held the Rams to a mere 202 total yards, including only 78 yards on the ground from the vaunted CSU running game.

For Rick Neuheisel, the win was a huge monkey off of his – and his team’s – back. “We are extremely proud of the way our kids played,” said the Buffs’ head coach, fresh from leading his team in the school fight song on the field after the game. “For 280 days (since Colorado’s last game, a 27-24 loss to Nebraska) we’ve had this bad taste in our mouths. Well, tonight we got a chance to spit.”

A Mile High

For me, the 1998 Colorado/Colorado State game was a true taste of a college football rivalry, perhaps the first fans in the state of Colorado have ever had.

True, the Buffs and Rams had met ten times since the “rivalry” had been renewed in 1983, but this was the first time the fans had truly squared off against one another. With the game pushed back to an 8:00 p.m. kickoff for television, the fans had a full day to prepare for the big game. Pregame tailgate parties were everywhere, and corporate tents lined the Mile High Stadium parking lot. Bands and cheerleaders were present, and beer flowed freely in the 90-degree heat.

By kickoff, fans were primed.

For generations, fans in the South, East, and Midwest have lived for their rivalry game – clashes such as Michigan/Ohio State, Army/Navy, and Alabama/Auburn. The teams respective records going into the game are irrelevant. The games are not important for the overall records or bowl bids – they are more important than any of that. This was the first time I felt a similar sense of yearning and desire going into a game with Colorado State. The Buffs’ backs were up against the wall. Colorado State, despite carrying a seven game losing streak against the Buffs into the game, was ranked 15th in the nation, and was the consensus favorite to take over as the premier team in the state.

For the Buffs, a win would restore order. A victory would also mean the possibility of a 5-0 record heading into the Kansas State game. The national ranking would be restored; the ship righted. Conversely, a loss would mean that every game on the schedule would become suspect. Self-doubt might return to the team. The season might become a struggle; Neuheisel’s job could well be in jeopardy.

All this was in the back of my mind as I wandered through the pre-game festivities. The sponsors had invited – at $20.00/head – some 2,500 Colorado fans to a pre-game bash just outside the stadium.

What they didn’t tell us, though, was that they had invited 2,500 CSU fans to the same party.

Both bands played, and the fans were full of fight. I saw t-shirts with slogans like “No forfeit necessary” (a reference to the wins Colorado had officially forfeited in 1997, including a win over CSU) and “Cuck Fu” (do your own translating).

I was ready for a fight, too.

Along for the ride were nine fellow Buff faithful. Once it was announced that the CSU game was to be played in Mile High, I knew I had to go. We had ten in our group, including friends from my dorm days in Libby Hall in Boulder. It became a reunion of sorts, and the pre-game party was a great deal of fun. Had the Buffs lost, I still would have had some fond memories of the day.

The big win just made everything that much sweeter.

Black is Back

The headlines after the Buffs’ romp over CSU were predictable: “CU restores order” (Denver Post); “Buffs a Mile High” (Rocky Mountain News); and “CS Who?” (Buffalo Sporting News). But no one caught on to what I had thought might be the theme: “Black is Back”. Perhaps the reference to the 1985 Buffs resurgence would have been a bit too obscure, but I deemed it appropriate.

In one evening, Colorado had regained its national prominence. Jumping 14 places in the poll, the Buffs went from unranked to No. 16 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. With lightly regarded Fresno State, Utah State, and Baylor – all at home – left to round out the schedule for the month of September, all at once the Buffs appeared primed to compete for national prominence.

Head coach Rick Neuheisel was cautious in his optimism. “We’re far from a finished product. I’m not going to get overly excited (about) the victory. This is one victory. We’ve got a long way to go.” Still, after weathering eight months of skepticism and calls for his hide after the first losing season (5-7) in thirteen years, Neuheisel could afford to enjoy the moment.

In the stands, with a number of good friends and former Boulderites within high-fiving distance, I did just that.

Game Notes –

– The game contained a number of firsts in the series, including the first neutral site game, and – by far – the largest crowd (76,036).

– The 100 yards rushing by Marcus Stiggers and the 100 yards rushing by Dwayne Cherrington marked just the 17th time in school history in which the Buffs had a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game.

– Cedric Cormier’s 82-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first for the Buffs since the Kansas game in 1990 (Dave McCloughan). For his efforts (four returns for 120 yards overall), Cormier was named the Big 12 Special teams player-of-the-week.

– The Buff defense stymied the Ram offense, holding CSU to only 202 yards of total offense. But it was a team effort, with only Rashidi Barnes, with 13 tackles, recording over ten tackles on the evening.

– Punter Nick Pietsch, who would go on to earn honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, had his longest punt of the season against Colorado State, a 61-yarder.

– Fully half of the starting 24 for the Buffs earned their first career start against the Rams. On offense: quarterback Mike Moschetti; running back Dwayne Cherrington; fullback Marcques Spivey; wide receiver Robert Toler; tight end Tom Ashworth; guard Victor Rogers; center Andre Gurode; and guard Ben Nichols (that’s eight of 11, folks). On defense: defensive tackle Sean Jarne; linebacker Albus Brooks; and safety John Sanders.

– Colorado State, which opened the season with a 23-16 road victory over No. 23 Michigan State, dropped out of the polls after the 42-14 loss to Colorado. The Rams would go on to post an 8-4 overall record, including a 32-10 win over SMU in the Cotton Bowl. The 1998 season proved to be the last for Colorado State in the Western Athletic Conference, which would join the newly formed Mountain West Conference for the 1999 season.


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