September 16th – Boulder           No. 9 Washington 17, Colorado 14

Former Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel made his return to Boulder a successful one, as Neuheisel’s 9th-ranked Washington Huskies defeated Colorado, 17-14.

Playing before 50,454 sweltering CU faithful, Washington overcame four turnovers to turn back winless Colorado. Husky quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo passed for 200 yards and rushed for 43 more to lead the undefeated Huskies, while Bobby Pesavento, making his first career start for Colorado, managed 174 yards on 15-of-27 passing.

Washington dominated the first half of the game, but it was Colorado which took a 7-3 lead into the break. Colorado produced nothing but punts on each of its first half drives, with Washington faring little better. The Huskies did mount one drive, settling for a 22-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter. It appeared that lead would hold before redshirt freshman cornerback Phil Jackson cut in front of a Tuiasosopo pass with 1:37 left in the second quarter, taking the interception 28 yards for a score and a 7-3 Buff lead.

For the third consecutive game, Colorado went to the break tied or in the lead.

Then, for the third consecutive game, the Buffs lost in the fourth quarter.

The Buffs lockerroom motto for the week of the Washington game was “FINISH”. It was Washington, however, which demonstrated closing power. The Huskies scored two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the final stanza to take a 17-7 lead, using two eight-play drives to cover 63 and 69 yards.

Only after the second Washington touchdown, coming with eight minutes to play in the game, did the dormant Colorado offense begin to show signs of life. The Buffs responded to the ten point deficit with a ten-play, 97-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 53-yard completion from Pesavento to Javon Green. The pair capped off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown connection with 3:46 left to play in the game.

Down 17-14, the Buffs did get the ball back with a chance to pull out an unlikely win. With only 57 seconds to play, Colorado did push the ball to midfield before a fumble by senior wide received Eric McCready sealed the win for Washington.

“It was an unbelievably hard-fought football game,” said Rick Neuheisel after the win. “My congratulations to Colorado and Coach Barnett. They have great character in their program. I wish them nothing but the best and I hope they win every game in their conference schedule.”

Neuheisel could afford to be conciliatory. He was now 2-0 against his former team, with no games (barring a bowl match-up) scheduled between the teams for the foreseeable future. Neuheisel was also now 10-5 at Washington, while his counterpart across the field, Gary Barnett, slipped to 7-8 as the Colorado head coach.

What could Gary Barnett, with No. 5 Kansas State up next after a bye week, say?

“They made the plays when they had to, and we didn’t. That was the bottom line.” Actually, the bottom line was that Colorado was 0-3 for the first time since 1986, and was faced with the real possibility of its second losing season in four years.

10:25 in the first quarter

For some reason, I felt compelled to check the scoreboard clock to mark the time. 10:25 left in the first quarter, just 4:35 into the game against Washington.

And I already had a feeling of discomfort.

The Buffs were going to lose.

Not that Colorado had started the contest poorly. In fact, the Buffs had taken the opening kickoff and had put together a pair of first downs before being forced to punt near midfield. Colorado punter Jeremy Flores connected on a high spiral which came down inside the Huskies’ five yard line. The Washington return man, defying the rule all punt returners are taught (to let all punts inside the ten yard line go), attempted to field the ball. He fumbled. The ball squirted into the end zone as several Colorado and Washington players scrambled for the loose pigskin.

For a frozen moment, the ball laid there, unattended. Over 100,000 eyes in Folsom Field fixated on it, but it was out of our grasp. Finally, a Washington player fell on the ball. By rule, the muffed punt was ruled a touchback. Washington was given the ball on their 20 yard line.

The Buffs could have had a touchdown. But didn’t.

The Buffs could have had a safety. But didn’t.

The Buffs could have had the Huskies pinned down in the bowl of Folsom Field, right in front of a still revved up student section. But didn’t.

Instead, Washington had the ball at their own 20-yard line.

Granted, that play was not the turning point in Colorado’s third straight loss. Washington missed on several opportunities throughout the game to put Colorado away, including a fumble inside the Buffs’ five yard line.

Still, a break like a fumbled punt early in the game is often a tonic for a team on a losing streak. An early touchdown could have propelled Colorado to an inspired win. Instead, the Buffs went on to a second consecutive moral victory against a top ten team.

For some reason, I saw it coming with 55 minutes still left to play.

Game Notes –

– The victory over Colorado allowed Washington to tie the all-time series, at 5-5-1, with two wins coming in two seasons under Rick Neuheisel.

– The identical 17-14 scores marked the first time Colorado had played back-to-back games with the same final scores since 1980, when Colorado lost to No. 16 Missouri and No. 9 Nebraska by the score of 45-7 on successive weekends.

– The game time temperature was 91-degrees, the warmest-ever for a game at Folsom Field. Conditions might have been even worse, but smoke from a nearby forest fire never reached the stadium. The previous high was 86-degrees, for both the 1957 game against Utah, and the 1981 game against Washington State.

– Colorado’s drive chart was consistent until the end of the game … First half – punt; punt; punt; punt; punt … Second half: punt; punt; punt; fumble; touchdown; fumble. The Buffs were held to 243 yards of total offense, including only 69 yards rushing (on 35 carries, less than two yards per carry).

– Cornerback Phil Jackson, in addition to his interception for a touchdown, had five tackles against the Huskies in his first career start. Jackson would go on to finish the 2000 season with 45 tackles, sixth on the team. At the end of the season, The Sporting News named Jackson to its Freshman All-American team (third-team).

– Bobby Pesavento became the first Colorado quarterback to lose his first start since Rick Wheeler lost to Nebraska in 1985. Between 1985-2000, Colorado had ten quarterbacks come in as a new starter, going 9-0-1 (Koy Detmer tied Oklahoma, 24-24, in 1992 in his first start).

– Washington would go on to lose its next game, 23-16, to No. 20 Oregon, but would not lose the remainder of the season. Finishing 10-1, the Huskies were the Pac-10’s representative in the Rose Bowl. After knocking off No. 14 Purdue, 24-14, Washington finished No. 3 in the nation in the final polls.



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