November 10th – at Iowa State                    No. 21 Colorado 40, Iowa State 27

Senior tailback Cortlen Johnson became the first player in CU history to have over 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game, leading the Buffs to a 40-27 win over Iowa State.  Johnson had 27 carries for 172 yards and six catches for 105 yards in leading the Buffs to a showdown with Nebraska for the Big 12 North Division championship.

After Colorado opened the scoring on the first of four Jeremy Flores’ field goals, the Buffs fell behind an opponent for the fifth consecutive week.  Cyclone quarterback Senaca Wallace passed and rushed for scores to give Iowa State 7-3 and 14-10 leads.

A four-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Pesavento to Cedric Cormier combined with two Flores’ field goals to give the Buffs a 16-14 lead late in the second quarter, setting up Johnson for some late first half heroics.

Taking over on their 19-yard line with under two minutes to play in the first half, the Buffs methodically moved the ball to midfield.  With just 15 seconds to play, quarterback Bobby Pesavento hit Johnson on a screen pass.  The senior tailback made excellent use of his blocking, winding his way 50 yards for a touchdown and a 23-14 halftime lead for the Buffs.  The play of the game, played before a national television audience on FoxSportsNet, helped Johnson secure national player of week honors in The Sporting News.

“He’s an amazing football player,” said Pesavento of Johnson.  “He’s hands down the best football player on this team.  I knew he was playing good, but when he broke that screen pass for a touchdown, I knew it would be an awesome day.”

The second half saw the Buffs slowly pull away, with a nine-yard Bobby Purify touchdown run and a 35-yard Flores field goal giving the Buffs a 33-14 lead with 8:35 to play in the game.  Purify’s touchdown was set up by a fake field goal pass by holder Jason Burianek to Daniel Graham, a play which seemed to break the Cyclones’ spirit.

A flurry of points in the waning moments, including a 15-yard touchdown run by Johnson, gave the Buffs a satisfying 40-27 win.

“I’m really proud of where this team is right now,” said Gary Barnett.  “The fact that we could finish this three-game series the way we set out to do it and put ourselves in a position now for a big game, one that means a lot and it will mean a lot.”

The Buffs had what they wanted – the opportunity to play for a title.

With the win over Iowa State, the Buffs were 8-2, 5-1 in Big 12 play.  On the heels of a 31-21 win over Kansas State, Nebraska was 10-0, 7-0.  The winner of the Colorado/Nebraska game would travel to Dallas for the Big 12 Championship game.

The Buffs were now ranked 15th in the nation (and would move up to 14th in the off week between the Iowa State and Nebraska games), and had earned the right to play for the Big 12 title.  The nation, though, was focused on a Nebraska/Oklahoma rematch in the Big 12 Championship game.  The Cornhuskers were ranked 2nd in the nation, ranked only behind undefeated Miami, while 10-1 Oklahoma was ranked 4th.

All that stood between the Cornhuskers and the Sooners and a re-match of the game of the year played earlier in Lincoln, was a Sooner win over 3-7 Oklahoma State and a Cornhusker win over the Buffs.  The winner of the Nebraska/Oklahoma game would likely be invited to the Rose Bowl to play Miami.

The scenario for the Bowl Championship Series was in place.

Then funny things started happening on the road to Pasadena.

“Seems like old times”

For the previous month, the party line for coaches and players was consistent.  “We still have everything we have been playing for if front of us”.  That was true in only the strictest of interpretations.  Sure, if Colorado beat Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Iowa State in succession, the game against Nebraska would be for a berth in the Big 12 title game.

After the disaster in Austin, though, that seemed like fantasy.

Yet, in the visiting locker room after the 40-27 win over Iowa State, the unlikely had become true.  Despite trailing all three opponents after the Texas loss, Colorado had rallied to win each game, twice by double digits.

“Seems like old times”, screamed a euphoric Eric Bieniemy in the locker room.  Bieniemy, who had been a senior running back for the Buffs the last time Colorado had defeated Nebraska, was now the Buffs’ running backs coach.  For the first time since 1996, the Colorado/Nebraska game would have title implications for both teams.

Asked if he agreed with Bieniemy’s assessment, Gary Barnett balked.  “I think that’s a little premature,” said the Buffs’ head coach.  “I think we’re on our way.  I think we’ve still got to beat Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas before we’re back where I want to be.  I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

A win over the hated Huskers was first on the list.  CU’s seniors, who had seen the Buffs through a 3-8 season and a season-opening loss to Fresno State, were ready to play Nebraska.  “That’s the game of my life,” said Jeremy Flores, who connected on all four field goal attempts against Iowa State after missing five of his previous six attempts.  “That’s what I’ve been looking for.  I think that’s one of the reasons why I came here.  I feel like that game is my destiny.”

A game of destiny.  Sounds good.

Game Notes:

– Prior to Johnson’s double-double against Iowa State, the closest any Buff had come to 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game was by running back Richard Johnson, who had 102 yards rushing and 95 yards receiving in a 34-23 win over Kansas in 1982.

– It was a long wait, but senior Cedric Cormier finally scored again. Cormier scored on a punt return in his first game as a freshman (v. CSU, 9/14/98), but had to wait until his senior year to score again. It took 37 games, but Cormier finally had a touchdown catch against Iowa State.

– Senior kicker Jeremy Flores had a good day against the Cyclones as well. Flores hit on four field goals, giving him 16 on the season, tying him for the single-season record with Jeremy Aldrich (who accomplished the feat in both 1998 and 1999). Flores would go on to set the new season mark at 18 (Mason Crosby would break that record with 21 field goals in 2005).

– Iowa State had won five of its first games of the 2001 season, but the loss to Colorado was the third in a row for the Cyclones. Iowa State would go to defeat Kansas and rival Iowa (in a makeup of the postponed September 15th game) to finish the regular season with a 7-4 record (4-4 in the Big 12 North, good enough for third place). The record was good enough to earn an invitation to the Independence Bowl, where Iowa State fell, 14-13, to Alabama.


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