September 2nd – at Denver           Colorado State 28, No. 23 Colorado 24

The third and (at the time) final edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown produced a close, intense game the promoters had hoped for from the beginning.

The 1998 and 1999 Mile High Stadium showcases had resulted in routs, but the 2000 game between Colorado and Colorado State remained in doubt all afternoon, with the CSU Rams coming from ten points down to defeat the Buffs, 28-24.

Colorado State senior quarterback Matt Newton had a career day, completing 19-of-30 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns. The Buffs inexperienced defensive secondary gave up big play after big play, first allowing the Rams to jump out to a 14-0 lead, then to rally from a 24-14 deficit.

Early in the contest, it appeared that the Rams would continue their domination of their Buffs. Jumping out to a 14-0 lead, Colorado State looked confident and impressive. Two long touchdowns passes, the second coming in the first minute of the second quarter, had the green-and-gold faithful shouting down their black-and-gold counterparts on the other side of the stadium.

Colorado started Zac Colvin at quarterback, but Colvin went down with a bruised elbow on the last play of the first quarter and did not return. Junior college transfer Bobby Pesavento came in to replace Colvin, and Pesavento engineered 17 second quarter points for the Buffs.

The first CU score of the 2000 season came on a five yard run by freshman Marcus Houston, capping a nine-play, 88-yard drive to make it a 14-7 game with just under ten minutes remaining in the first half. The Buffs then tied the score a few minutes later with a 15-yard scoring pass from Pesavento to senior wide receiver Javon Green. In the final minute before the break, the Buffs moved 32 yards in four plays, setting up a 36-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Mike Mariscal, giving Colorado a 17-14 advantage at halftime.

Taking the second half kickoff, Colorado looked to be a position to dominate the remainder of the game.

Moving quickly downfield, the Buffs went up 24-14 on a Pesavento one-yard run three minutes into the third quarter. The Buffs would not score again, though, as the CSU defense bent but did not break. Meanwhile, the Rams exploited the weakness of the Colorado defense – the secondary – time and time again. A 42-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter made it a 24-21 game, with the Rams retaking the lead for good with 10:31 to play on a 30-yard touchdown pass.

The Buffs had several opportunities late to pull out a victory, but each effort fell short. Final score: Colorado State 28, Colorado 24.

“All of our inexperience showed up,” a quiet Gary Barnett said after the game. Thrice burned junior cornerback Nate Wright, making his third career start replacing Ben Kelly, was the topic of many questions. “Everybody in the world knows (Wright) gave up three touchdowns,” said Barnett. “But we’re going to play 10 more games, and he’s going to be out there. You just have to have a short memory when you play corner.”

The defensive lapses overshadowed a fine offensive performance by Colorado.

The suspect offensive line paved the way to 223 yards rushing while protecting the Buffs’ quarterbacks to the tune of 309 passing yards. The Buffs had 532 yards of total offense (compared to 392 for CSU) and no turnovers (two for the Rams), numbers which should have produced a victory. Colvin, while producing no points, played well before injuring his elbow. Pesavento made several poor decisions, but appeared to be in command of the offense much of the game.

The running game, long on the wish list for the Buffs, showed signs of the dominance. Cortlen Johnson, playing with a turf toe injury suffered in the first quarter, still managed to lead the Buffs with 121 yards on 17 carries, while freshman sensation Marcus Houston contributed 100 yards on 18 carries.

Despite the impressive offensive numbers, Colorado was 0-1 to start the season, had no opportunity to ponder what might have been.

Up next was No. 11 USC, which had taken out No. 22 Penn State, 29-5, in their season opener.

The Trojans had the advantage of an extra week to prepare for the Buffs, with their opener coming in a made-for-television Kickoff Classic played in East Rutherford, New Jersey. USC also had the homefield advantage and the one thing the Buffs thought they would have walking off the turf of Mile High Stadium … a 1-0 record.


Mile High Farewell

The day was perfect.

The 4:00 p.m. kickoff time allowed for afternoon tailgating (without alcohol, courtesy of the riot which had come at the conclusion of the 1999 game). A beautiful day, 82-degree temperature, and good seats (35 rows up in the first level, down amongst the CU faithful in the southwest corner of the stadium). We had twelve ticket-holders in our little band of Buff faithful, and were prepared for a good time.

But there were clouds of trepidation in the otherwise cloudless sky. Boulder Daily Camera sports writer Neill Woelk, in a column the day of the game, summed up my fears. After commenting on the excitement surrounding the game, Woelk went on to note:

“Thing is, excited might not be the right word for CU types. Nervous – even apprehensive – might be more apt. A loss today could send the Buffs into a tailspin that might not end until an 0-6 free fall in on the board.”

I was hopeful that the first six games of the 2000 season would be a springboard for the Buffs.

A 4-2 record, even 3-3, would set Colorado up for the rest of the 2000 season, and set up the Buffs for a 2001 campaign with a much easier schedule. Now, with a glaring weakness there for everyone, including USC quarterback Carson Palmer, to see, the Buffs were in real trouble.

The other major concerns heading into the game against with CSU were whether the Buffs could find a starting quarterback and whether the rebuilt offensive line would hold. Both of these issues were resolved positively. The weak link to the Buffs was their secondary.

And there was only six days to fix the problem.

As I walked out of Mile High Stadium for what for me would be the last time (the new Mile High Stadium was under construction next to the existing stadium), I was already grateful the 2001 game would be played in Boulder.

Denver had not been good to the Buffs.


Game Notes –

– The win for Colorado State marked the first time in half a century (1948-49) in which the Rams had posted two straight victories in the series. Colorado still led the overall series, 53-17-2.

– Colorado lost after holding a two-score lead for the first time since 1993, breaking a 49-game streak of winning games in such instances.

– The 121 yards rushing by Cortlen Johnson, along with the 100 yards posted by Marcus Houston, gave Colorado two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the 36th time in school history, and the first since 1995. The 100 yards also was the highest-ever by a true freshman running back in their first game as a Buff.

– Four players earned their first-ever starts at Colorado in the 2000 season opener. Red-shirt freshman guard Karl Allis, junior fullback Scott Nemeth, junior linebacker Anwawn Jones, and sophomore linebacker Kory Mossini all had their first starts against Colorado State.

– While the Colorado secondary suffered overall, junior Terrence Wood did have two interceptions. Wood became just the ninth player in CU history to pull off such a double, and the first in 11 years.

– Unbeknownst to the Buff Nation at the time, but the offensive explosion from the CU offense in the opener would prove to be the high-water mark for the entire season. The Buffs set season-highs for first downs (29), rushing attempts (45), rushing yards (224), pass completions (25), offensive plays (84), and total yards (532) … and still lost.

– Colorado State would go on to post a 10-2 record, with a 6-1 record in the Mountain West. As the No. 23 team in the nation, the Rams would go on defeat No. 22 Louisville, 22-17, in the Liberty Bowl, finishing No. 14 in the final polls.



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