October 27th – at Oklahoma State          No. 25 Colorado 22, Oklahoma State 19

Against Oklahoma State, Colorado continued what was becoming an agonizing pattern for the 2001 season: play well early; let the opposition control the game for a significant portion of the mid-section of the game; then finish with a flourish.

The formula had worked well against Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, and now was a successful formula against the Cowboys.  The net result was a hard-fought 22-19 win in Stillwater.

On CU’s opening drive, quarterback Craig Ochs hit 27-year old senior wide receiver Matt Brunson for a 74-yard touchdown to put the Buffs up 7-0.  After linebacker Andy Peeke partially blocked an OSU punt on the Cowboys’ next possession, the Buffs were set up at the OSU 26-yard line.

The Buffs were up a score, and had the 2-5 Cowboys on the ropes.  A holding penalty and a missed 35-yard field goal attempt by Jeremy Flores later, however, Oklahoma State was back in the game.

With 9:20 left in the first half and Colorado maintaining a 7-0 lead, Craig Ochs was sacked.  Ochs was injured on the play, straining a tendon in his right ankle, and did not return.

Oklahoma State quickly capitalized, putting together an 85-yard drive to tie the score.  Moments later, CU long-snapper Jake Jones centered the ball over punter Mark Mariscal’s head and out of the end zone for a safety.  9-7, OSU.

Adding insult to injury, on the ensuing drive, quarterback Bobby Pesavento, subbing for Ochs, was hit as he passed.  The pass was intercepted by OSU linebacker Dwayne Levels, who returned the ball 57 yards for an unlikely 16-7 Oklahoma State lead at halftime.

In the third, the Buffs continued to move the ball, but were unable to muster any points until the last play of the quarter.  Down 19-7 after a Cowboy field goal, Marcus Houston brought the Buffs back to within 19-14 with a 16-yard touchdown run.

The fourth quarter, while tense, was dominated by the Buffs.

The Colorado defense gave up drives which entered Buff territory, but did not surrender any more points.  Twice Oklahoma State was forced to give up the ball on downs, and Buff safety Michael Lewis contributed an interception on a ball tipped by teammate Kory Mossoni.

The game’s winning points came with 5:55 remaining, as Bobby Pesavento hit tight end Daniel Graham from 21 yards out to put the Buffs up 20-19.  Two unsportsmanlike penalties – one for Graham spiking the ball, the other for tackle Victor Rogers removing his helmet – put the Buffs at the 33-yard line.  With nothing to lose, the Buffs went for two points.  Bobby Pesavento proceeded to hit Derek McCoy alone in the end zone for the 22-19 final.

“That was a struggle and a fight,” said Gary Barnett after the game.  “We overcame what we were doing to ourselves (including 13 penalties for 112 yards).”

Victor Rogers and Daniel Graham, seniors who had seen the Buffs fail to come back during multiple losses during the 2000 campaign, gave speeches during halftime when the Buffs were down 16-7.  “Coach Barnett said a couple of things to get us motivated, and it was senior leadership after that,” said Rogers.

Pesavento, subbing for Ochs for the second consecutive game, completed 15-of-20 passes for 180 yards.  Bobby Purify posted the 2nd 100-yard game of his career, rushing for 109 yards on 23 carries on the night.  But it wasn’t statistics which beat Oklahoma State, it was a new found sense of confidence.  The 3-8 Buffs in 2000 found ways to lose close games.  The 6-2 (4-1) 2001 Buffs were finding ways to win.

“We finished this thing,” Barnett said.  “We barely finished it, but we finished it.  A year ago, we might not have finished it.”

The win kept the Buffs at No. 25 in the polls.  Up next was 3-4 (2-3 in Big 12 play) Missouri.  The Tigers were a tough read. Missouri lost to Bowling Green in Gary Pinkel’s first game as head coach, but trailed Texas only 10-7 at halftime before succumbing, 36-15, in the game leading up to the match-up against the Buffs.

As the calendar turned to November, the Buffs still controlled their own destiny.  Wins against Missouri, Iowa State (6-2, 4-1), and No. 2 Nebraska (9-0, 5-0), would put the Buffs in the Big 12 title game for the first time.  Colorado was already bowl eligible with its sixth win of the season.

The month of November would determine which bowl the Buffs would be invited to attend.

Bowl Eligible

Brad called right after CU’s first score.

Randy was over, and we were watching the night game from Stillwater on FoxSportsNet.  The call was unusual, as we would normally wait until halftime to connect.  But it seemed reasonable.  The Buffs had stopped Oklahoma State on the Cowboys’ first drive, and then CU had taken all of five plays to put points on the board.  We hung up a few minutes later after the Buffs took over on the OSU 26-yard line after a partially blocked punt.  It appeared as if CU’s first easy win since early September was in the making.

But then things turned ugly.

By the time I called Brad at the half, CU was down 16-7, and we were both more frustrated than ever.  The Buffs didn’t seem to have much difficulty moving the ball, but penalties and bad timing had resulted in a nine-point deficit.  Taking a safety, followed by witnessing a linebacker rumble 57 yards for a score on an interception?  Surely the Buffs would right the ship in the second half.

By the time Brad called again, just after Marcus Houston ran for a first down to seal the 22-19 win, we were both emotionally drained. The Buffs had played hard in the second half, but a similar overall effort would not be successful against Nebraska, and perhaps not even against Iowa State.  If the unlikely dream of playing for the Big 12 Championship was to continue to be plausible, the Buffs would have to improve play in all facets of the game.

But who were we to complain?

After a 3-8 season, 6-2, no matter how achieved, looked pretty darn good.  When Brad called, I told him, “I have only two words for you to take from this game”, pausing for effect, ‘bowl eligible’ ”.

Barring an 0-3 collapse and a resurgence from other teams in the Big 12, it appeared certain that CU would be playing to extend its NCAA-best current string of six consecutive bowl wins.  The Buffs were not winning pretty, but at least they were winning.

I was more than willing to take it.

 Game Notes:

– The Buffs’ opening drive covered 99 yards, becoming the sixth such drive in school history. It had been ten years since it had happened before, when it happened twice in the same game (v. Oklahoma, 10/19/91).

– To defeat Oklahoma State, the Buffs had to overcome a 12-point deficit. As of the 2001 comeback, it had only occurred 18 times in school history, with the most recent such rally taking place in a 1997 game against Iowa State (down 35-17; winning 43-38).

– The 33-yard two-point conversion is probably a record – the NCAA does not keep track of such abnormalities.

– Colorado’s win over Oklahoma State represented the Buffs’ first win in a night game since 1998 (an 18-16 win over Baylor, 9/26/98). After the Baylor win, Colorado lost its next four games played under the lights prior to the win over Oklahoma State.

– The afternoon prior to the Colorado/Oklahoma State game, Nebraska and Oklahoma squared off in the “Game of the Year”. Both were undefeated, with Oklahoma ranked No. 2; Nebraska No. 3. Behind quarterback Eric Crouch, whose 66-yard touchdown catch on a trick play may have won him his Heisman, the Cornhuskers prevailed in Lincoln, 20-10.

– The loss to Colorado was the fourth of five in a row for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, under first year head coach Les Miles (and, interestingly enough, first year offensive coordinator Mike Gundy), won their final two games of the season, including a 16-13 upset win over No. 4 Oklahoma, to finish the 2001 season 4-7, 2-6.


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