September 7th – Boulder          No. 17 Colorado 34, San Diego State 14

The Buffs survived the loss of quarterback Craig Ochs to injury to win their home-opener against San Diego State, 34-14.

Ochs suffered a concussion late in the second quarter and did not return. Senior quarterback Robert Hodge teamed with a “bend-but-don’t-break” Colorado defense in the second half to help the Buffs pull away from the Aztecs.

Both teams scored on their opening drives of the game.

Ochs hit tight end Beau Williams for a 22-yard score to put the Buffs up, 7-0. San Diego State responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive, culminated by a 4-yard scoring run by running back Garric Simmons.

The first quarter theatrics were not over just yet, however. On the Buffs’ next drive, on third-and-five from the CU 25-yard line, Craig Ochs hit wide receiver Derek McCoy around midfield. McCoy did the rest, turning the play into a 75-yard touchdown.

After SDSU had knotted the score at 14, the game turned on a special teams play. Freshman running back Michael Franklin, who had posted the Aztecs second score, touched a punt close to his endzone. Mistakenly believing that he had to come out with the ball, Franklin attempted a return, only to fumble the ball. Freshman Colorado linebacker Akarika Dawn picked up the gift and returned it eight yards for a 21-14 lead.

Just before halftime, quarterback Craig Ochs scrambled, and on his way toward the Buff sideline, was laid out by a jarring hit. Kept out of action for the second half, Ochs was taken to the hospital for precautionary tests while senior Robert Hodge took the field. Hodge was effective, if not efficient, in guiding the Buffs to two second half scores. Chris Brown scored twice in the second half on his way to 185 yards rushing. Brown’s second score, from 38 yards out, came in final minute of play to give CU a 34-14 win.

“I’m really pleased with the way the defense played,” said Gary Barnett, despite witnessing the Aztecs put up 401 yards of total offense. “I think we gave up some yards, but against (a four-receiver, spread offense) you’re going to do that.”

The Buffs were now 1-1. Despite the win, the Buffs fell one spot, to 18th,,in the polls. Colorado’s position at No. 17 was taken by USC, the Buffs’ next opponent. USC was 1-0, having defeated Auburn, 24-17, in its opener. The Trojans were led by senior quarterback Carson Palmer, who had completed 25-of-31 passes against Colorado in 2000 (a 17-14 USC win).

The Buffs, meanwhile, would be forced to counter with Robert Hodge, who would be making his first career start.

Marwan Hage

On September 12th, two days before the USC game, the Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame inducted six new members. Started in 1998 with the induction of just one member, Byron “Whizzer” White, the Hall of Fame class of 2002 included Harry Carlson, Sox Walseth, Hale Irwin, Carrol Hardy, Dick Anderson, and Darian Hagan. I took off from Bozeman a day early in order to attend the festivities. It was a great evening. Both Bill McCartney and Gary Barnett were on hand to introduce Darian Hagan, with both calling Hagan the best athlete they had ever coached.

Coming down a day early also afforded me the opportunity to attend the Denver Buff Club luncheon on Friday. In addition to listening to Gary Barnett discuss the San Diego State win and the upcoming USC game, I had the opportunity to meet junior guard Marwan Hage. Barnett brought two players with him to the luncheon, Hage and defensive lineman Gage Nyenhuis. Just before the festivities were to begin, Barnett strolled in with his linemen in tow. Barnett stopped at our table, noting that only three of four seats were taken. Barnett asked if Marwan could join us, and we readily agreed.

To be honest, all I knew about Marwan Hage was that he was an offensive lineman who had played in Canada, that he was one of the returning starters, and that we needed him to make the running game work.

When I left Denver that Friday afternoon, I knew much more.

Marwan Hage was born in Beirut, Lebanon. His family moved to Montreal, Canada, when Marwan was nine. Marwan was well-spoken, though not as large as I would have expected a 295-pound man to look. Being a Canadian, he wanted to talk hockey as much as he wanted to discuss football. When Barnett introduced Hage to the luncheon crowd, we learned that Marwan spoke three languages fluently (including French and Arabic), that he had a 4.0 in business management, and was on course to graduate in three years.

Marwan humanized the game for me again. College football is not just a collection of statistics and gate receipts. It is a game played by young men, growing not only as players but as individuals. Hage had his likes (food high on the list), and his dislikes (fall camp described as “depressing”), but he also had classes, friends and family.

Sure, I knew all of this before. But with the individual sitting before you, and not the uniform, it brings it all home. I left the luncheon with a new favorite CU player.

Marwan Hage.

Game Notes

– San Diego State quarterback Adam Hall had a career night for the Aztecs. Hall completed 39-of-59 passes for 359 yards. Only the completion mark set a new standard for a CU opponent (regular season: Brandon Stewart, Texas A&M, 34 completions – 9/28/96; All games: Trent Dilfer, Fresno State, 37 completions – 12/25/93, Aloha Bowl).

– Akarika Dawn’s score represented the first time two true freshman had scored for the Buffs in back-to-back games (combining with Jeremy Bloom’s punt return against CSU) since 1991 when Kordell Stewart and Lamont Warren turned the trick.

– Another freshman made a name for himself against San Diego State. Safety J.J. Billingsley made 15 tackles on the night, eclipsing the freshman record of 14 set by Jashon Sykes (v. Nebraska, 11/27/98).

– Both Colorado and San Diego State finished the game with 401 total yards of offense. The last time the Buffs and an opponent finished with identical numbers was 1968, when the Buffs and Iowa State each posted 396 yards (a 28-18 CU victory).

– Marwan Hage started two games as a true freshman in 2000, starting against Kansas and Oklahoma State. Entering the USC game, Hage had started 15 consecutive games, a streak second on the team only to the tackle next to him on the line, Justin Bates. Hage was named as a second-team pre-season All-Big 12 lineman in Lindy’s Big 12 magazine, and third team in Phil Steele’s College Football.

One Reply to “San Diego State – Meeting Marwan Hage”

  1. I moved from Colorado to Seattle in 1995 for work but have managed to return to Boulder for at least one game each year since then. In 2002, I brought my son to Folsom for his first Buffs game. Grant had just turned 6 and while this was just the beginning of many fantastic trips we have taken to Boulder together, the game against San Diego State still ranks as my favorite.

    I distinctly remember Craig Ochs running the ball with just a few seconds before half time and getting absolutely blown up by an Aztec defender on a hit that was clearly out of bounds. I remember Grant and I sharing that feeling of genuine concern over “our” injured Buff as the ambulance took Craig to the hospital.

    I remember the breakout game that J.J. Billingsley had that day – 15 tackles as a freshman! As the game progressed, the fans joined the announcer on each successive tackle with a robust “another tackle by J.J. BILLINGSLEY!” It was incredibly cool having nearly everyone in the stadium join in – including the little guy next to me.

    The best part however happened outside of Folsom. My wife was pretty strict when it came to sugar with our kids, so like any good dad I made sure to load him up at the game – I think he ate 5 feet of red rope licorice. With about 6 minutes left in the game, he hit the wall. I carried him out of the stadium, head on my shoulder, sound asleep. We were quite a ways from Folsom when the fans erupted once more. At that moment, Grant lifted his head and softly said “Dad, I think we just scored.” Yes we did son, yes WE did. Welcome to the herd.

Leave a Reply

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