November 16th – Boulder           No. 17 Colorado 41, Iowa State 27

Bobby Purify, subbing for an injured Chris Brown, ran for 174 yards to lead Colorado to a Big 12 North title-clinching win over Iowa State, 41-27.

Purify scored on a five-yard run with 1:53 remaining to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive to finally seal the win for the Buffs in a game which witnessed six lead changes.

Both teams scored on their opening drives, with Pat Brougham connecting from 43 yards out for the Buffs, while tailback Michael Wagner scored from five yards out to give Iowa State a 7-3 lead. In the second quarter, Colorado posted two touchdowns around a 50-yard touchdown pass from Seneca Wallace to Lance Young. First, quarterback Robert Hodge hit receiver D.J. Hackett for an eight-yard touchdown. Then, with 2:45 remaining before halftime, Chris Brown scored from five yards out to give the Buffs a 17-14 edge at the break.

Brown, who would carry the ball 25 times for 127 yards, left the game midway through the third quarter with a bruised sternum and did not return. Iowa State briefly regained the lead with a one-yard Joe Woodley run, but when the extra point kick was blocked by the Buffs, a 40-yard field goal by Brougham knotted the score at 20-all.

With Brown out, the Buffs turned to Purify and Marcus Houston, who had his first carries since being injured in the season opener against Colorado State. Colorado also passed more frequently, with quarterback Robert Hodge hitting 17-of-28 passes for 187 yards and two scores, including a six-yard connection with Derek McCoy with 10:20 remaining to give Colorado a 27-20 lead.

A few minutes later, after a Marcus Houston fumble at the Buff 25, the Colorado defense made the play of the game.

Seneca Wallace, who would account for 365 of Iowa State’s 472 yards of total offense, fumbled the snap from center. Safety Medford Moorer returned the fumble 71 yards for a touchdown and the Buffs’ first two score lead of the game, 34-20, with only 5:12 remaining.

Iowa State countered with a touchdown just 1:16 later. Seneca Wallace went 4-for-4 on the drive passing for 64 yards before finishing the job himself with a six-yard touchdown run. What had seemed like an insurmountable lead with 5:12 on the clock was now very much in jeopardy with 3:56 to play.

Enter Bobby Purify.

Responding in kind to Wallace’s heroics, Purify carried the ball all six plays of Colorado’s ensuing 80-yard drive, including a 50-yard run on the Buffs’ second play from scrimmage. When Purify scored from five yards out with less than two minutes to play, the home crowd of 50,478 could finally celebrate the Buffs’ back-to-back Northern division titles.

“We didn’t want to leave it up to going to Lincoln”, said senior offensive guard Wayne Lucier. “We said all along, ‘Let’s end it this week.’” Head coach Gary Barnett was relieved by the win. “Obviously a huge win for us, for this team, considering everything it’s been through to be in a position now to go back and play for the Big 12 championship,” said Barnett after the game. “I don’t think seven weeks ago very many of the folks out there would give us much of a chance to do this, but we stood there and we staggered a little bit, but we were able to come back.”

Improving to 8-3 overall, 6-1 in the Big 12 with only Nebraska to play, the Buffs knew that they were the Northern division champion. They also knew that, with the upset of Texas by Texas Tech, 42-38, earlier in the day, that the winner of the Oklahoma/Texas Tech game the following week would determine the Buffs’ opponent.

But the Buffs had almost two weeks to worry about the Cornhuskers, with the Big 12 championship game to be played the following Saturday in Houston. For the moment savoring the moment was paramount to the Buffs. For the second consecutive year, the final home game of the season resulted in the crowd rushing the field to tear down the goalposts, celebrating a title. For the second consecutive year, Buff seniors left Folsom Field a winner, some being carried off the field. As senior quarterback Robert Hodge, who was only expected to see mop up duty when the season began, but who was now a vital contributor to the Buffs’ success, put it, “Who would have thought after the ‘SC game we’d be coming back and playing in the Big 12 championship?”

Who, indeed.

Houston, I Don’t Think we have a Problem

In 2001, Gary Barnett made headlines when he took two of his seniors, safety Michael Lewis and guard Andre Gurode, from the Big 12 summer meetings in Dallas out to see Texas Stadium, site of the conference title game. The stated reason for the trip was to have the seniors set their sights on returning to Dallas in December. Coming off of a 3-8 season in 2000, it was seen as folly to project Colorado as a participant in that game. Yet, Barnett made the return trip to Dallas a rallying cry for his team, with a model of the stadium traveling with the team throughout the 2001 campaign. With each win over a conference opponent, the opposing teams’ decal was placed on the container. The result was in fact a return to Dallas and the Buffs’ first Big 12 championship.

Reliant Stadium in Houston was the setting for the 2002 Big 12 title game. The brand new stadium was the home of the Houston Texans, making their NFL debut in 2002. At the summer meetings in Houston before the beginning of play in 2002, Barnett was asked if he had stopped by the new stadium. Barnett demurred, stating that the traffic had made such a trip too difficult.

Only two teams had made consecutive trips to the conference title game (Nebraska; Texas A&M). Neither of those teams had been able to secure consecutive title championships. For the Buffs to have that opportunity, after an 11-month odyssey which Barnett said had “battered” his team, seemed unrealistic, despite lofty preseason expectations. Since the 39-37 win over Texas in December, 2001, the team faced a major criminal investigation of four players (resulting in misdemeanor charges), a lengthy NCAA investigation of the Neuheisel era which culminated in minor restrictions being placed on the school, the death of co-defensive coordinator Tom McMahon, and the soap opera worthy departure of starting quarterback Craig Ochs.

“You name it, it’s happened to us, from the big things to the little things,” senior offensive tackle Justin Bates. “Our team just kind of looked the other way and said, ‘You know what? That doesn’t have anything to do with us winning football games.’”

And since the start of the conference season, it hadn’t. The Buffs were 6-1 in conference play, and since they could do no worse than a tie with Kansas State for the best division record, they were on their way to Houston.

Fortunately for the Buffs, their 35-31 win over Kansas State had come early in October. Since that time, other than a 17-14 slip against Texas, the Wildcats had been dominant. After mauling Iowa State 58-7, Kansas State took it to the Buffs’ next opponent, Nebraska, in record fashion. Defeating the Cornhuskers at home for the third time in a row, Kansas State humiliated Nebraska, 49-13, the Cornhuskers worst defeat in 34 years.

The loss left Nebraska with a 7-5 record, the Cornhuskers worst record since completing the 1961 season 3-6-1. Since rolling into Boulder with an 11-0 record at the end of the 2001 season, Nebraska’s record was 7-7, with six consecutive losses to ranked opponents. Head coach Frank Solich, despite having a 49-13 record, was under fire from the Husker Nation.

Even the players were becoming vocal. A Nebraska player, after the Kansas State disaster, told the Omaha World-Herald, “It’s pretty obvious that by the end of the game … they flat out wanted it more. The heart of this team … I question it after this game.”

Not that the Cornhuskers or their fans would be receiving any condolence cards from Boulder. With losing seasons in 1997 and 2000 still fresh on their minds, there would be no sympathy for a program faced with the possibility of not winning nine games or more in a season for the first time since 1968. The Buffs did not need to be reminded that Colorado had not won in Lincoln since 1990, and that the last three losses (17-12 in ‘96; 16-14 in ‘98, and 34-32 in ‘00) were agonizingly close to being wins.

Houston could wait. Despite the fact that the Buffs’ opponent became known to them during their bye week before the Nebraska game when Oklahoma annihilated Texas Tech, 60-15, to win the South. Even though they now had the rematch they wanted against the Sooners, the Nebraska game came first.

While it seemed incongruous that the Colorado/Nebraska game did not have any conference title implications, it was still vital.

Winning in Lincoln would be its own reward.

Game Notes

– The Buffs’ final touchdown drive of the game took only six plays. The other five scoring drives all took at least nine plays (nine, three took ten, and one took 12).

– In a nice move by the Colorado coaches, former walk-on wide receiver Jason Burianek received his first and only career start against Iowa State. The team’s holder on kicks, Burianek did not record a reception in his career, though he did complete a pass. In 2001, against Iowa State, Burianek completed a 10-yard pass to tight end Daniel Graham for a first down on a fake field goal.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *