November 13th – Boulder          Colorado 38, Kansas State 31

The stakes were not as high.  It was not  No. 7 Colorado versus No. 4 Michigan in front of 106,427 fans and a national television audience.

Instead, it was 5-4 Colorado versus 4-5 Kansas State in front of 46,502 fans and no television coverage.

But the yardage was the same.

And – importantly to the Buff Nation – the results were the same.

Ten years after Kordell Stewart hit Michael Westbrook for a 64-yard touchdown and a 27-26 win over Michigan, Joel Klatt hit Ron Monteilh for a 64-yard touchdown and a 38-31 win over Kansas State.  The score came with five seconds remaining, culminating a wild finish which witnessed a total of 35 fourth quarter points.

The contest started out well for the Buffs, with Colorado taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.  Joel Klatt scored on a one-yard run, and Mason Crosby connected from 51 yards out to give Colorado the advantage.  The Wildcats came right back, however, mirroring the Buffs with a one-yard run by running back Darren Sproles, and a 52-yard field goal by Joe Rheem to tie the score 10-10 just before halftime.

Colorado seemingly took control of the game in the third quarter.  Bobby Purify, who rushed for 155 yards on the day, scored from three yards out early in the third, giving the Buffs a 17-10 advantage.  Later in the stanza, Klatt hit tight end Joe Klopenstein for a five-yard score and a 24-10 Colorado lead.  The Buffs held that advantage into the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the fantastic finish.

Kansas State climbed to within a touchdown of the lead, 24-17, on an 11-yard touchdown run by quarterback Alan Webb.  Just a minute later, with 8:12 still to play, the score was tied after linebacker Ted Sims returned an intercepted Joel Klatt pass 37 yards for a score.

With the game – and the season – on the line, the Colorado offense responded. The Buffs engineered an eight-play, 62-yard touchdown drive, with Bobby Purify scoring from two yards out.  The Wildcats responded with a long drive of their own, completing an 80-yard drive with a touchdown, knotting the score again, this time at 31-31, with just 36 seconds remaining.

A second overtime in a month loomed as Colorado took over at its 23-yard line with now only 30 seconds remaining.  After two incomplete passes, Lawrence Vickers ran up the middle for 13 yards and a first down at the Colorado 36-yard line.  16 seconds remained.

Hoping for a long completion to put the Buffs’ best offensive weapon, kicker Mason Crosby, into play, Joel Klatt scrambled out of the pocket.  The play took just long enough for senior wide receiver Ron Monteilh to get lost in coverage.  Klatt found Monteilh alone at the KSU 23-yard line.  Monteilh then eluded two would be tacklers, racing down the left sideline in front of the Colorado student section for the winning score.

It was senior Ron Monteilh’s first career touchdown reception.

“Gee whiz, what a great play by Klatt and Monteilh”, was all Gary Barnett could get out after the game.  Senior defensive tackle Matt McChesney was equally overcome.  “At that particular moment, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier during a football game in my life,” said McChesney, who was part of the Colorado team which won the Big 12 Championship in 2001.  “There were tears in my eyes.  I couldn’t breathe.  It was the last hurrah for me.”

The win gave Colorado a 6-4 record.  The Buffs were now bowl eligible, and eliminated the 4-6 Wildcats from the post-season for the first time since 1992.  It also kept the Buffs unlikely run to the Big 12 North title alive.  The win gave Colorado a 3-4 conference record.  Having eliminated Kansas and Kansas State from contention in successive weeks, the Buffs received a lift from an unlikely source the following weekend.  While the Buffs had an off-week in preparation for the Thanksgiving weekend trip to play Nebraska, Kansas eliminated Missouri with a 31-14 win over the Tigers, dropping Missouri, ranked nationally in the preseason, to a surprising 2-5 conference mark.

Also eliminated from title contention during the off-week was Colorado’s next opponent, Nebraska.  The Cornhuskers had the same Big 12 record as the Buffs, 3-4, but were shut out of title consideration when Iowa State defeated Kansas State, 32-23.  The ISU win gave the Cyclones a 4-3 conference mark with a game against Missouri still to be played.  The best the Cornhuskers could do was a 4-4 finish, and the worst ISU could do was also 4-4.  Based on Iowa State’s 34-27 win over Nebraska earlier in the season, a win over Colorado would only give the Cornhuskers the satisfaction of eliminating Colorado from its title hopes.

There was much more for the Big Red to play for, though.  Under first year head coach Bill Callahan, the Cornhuskers, at 5-5 overall, were in danger of facing their first losing season in 43 years, and the first post-season without a bowl since 1968.  For Colorado, assured of a bowl bid, the stakes were different, but equally high.  A win over Nebraska, coupled with an Iowa State loss to Missouri the following day, meant the Buffs, at 7-4, 4-4, would play Oklahoma for the Big 12 Championship.  “We’re the Fiesta Bowl’s worst nightmare,” said Gary Barnett, of his team’s opportunity to win out and claim the Big 12 title.

The win over Kansas State was sweet.  But the Buffs still had even higher aspirations.

And defeating Nebraska would be a great way to get there.

Bobby Purify had been through so much in getting to this day.  He broke a bone in his foot on the first day of practice as a freshman, bouncing back to play in five games.  In 2001, as a sophomore, he received honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, rushing for 916 yards behind all-everything tailback Chris Brown.  After shoulder surgery the following spring, Purify had another good year in 2002, rushing for 739 yards in again garnering All-Big 12 honorable mention honors.

2003 was supposed to be Bobby Purify’s year.  Chris Brown was off to the NFL, so Purify was to be the focal point of the Colorado rushing attack.  A high ankle sprain in the third game of the year, however, ended those dreams.  Season-ending surgery allowed Purify to apply for a medical red-shirt season, allowing Purify to come back for a second senior year in 2004.

Despite separating both shoulders early in the year, Purify managed to see the season through.  His 155-yard, two touchdown effort against Kansas State helped make Purify’s last home game a memorable one.  “I can’t say enough good things about Bobby Purify”, said Colorado junior quarterback Joel Klatt, “He is everything good about this program.”

I wanted to write a letter to the students, asking to make Bobby Purify’s last home game special.  I couldn’t find a link to write a letter, however, and rather than make a phone call or send an email, I dropped the idea.

Fortunately, the students were way ahead of me.  After the game, the students awarded Bobby Purify it’s “Buffalo Heart Award”.  The annual award is presented by the “Fans Behind the Bench” to the player the fans observe to have played with the most heart.  That Bobby Purify won the award was appropriate.  That Bobby Purify received the award surrounded by gleeful fans shouting, “Bobby, Bobby” after Colorado’s improbable win over Kansas State, was, in the words of the MasterCard campaign of the day, “priceless”.

I didn’t need to write the letter, after all.

 Senior Day – Part II

Every high school and college football team in the country has a “Senior Day”.  There is a special introduction before the game, recognizing the seniors before they play their last home game.

For Colorado in 2004, the class was small.  Only eleven seniors were playing their last game at Folsom Field.  Bobby Purify was the most visible, but there were others.  Receiver Ron Monteilh was the only receiver returning for 2004 with any experience.  Sam Wilder and Terrance Barreau were senior starters on the offensive line, while Matt McChesney played on the defensive front.  Others, including receiver Mike Duren and defensive tackle Brandon Dabdoub, also saw action.

While I respect the efforts of student athletes as much as most fans, I feel I could be forgiven for being a bit cynical as the final moments of the Kansas State game ticked off.  Colorado had – again – allowed the Wildcats to tie the game.  Up 10-0, the Buffs had seen the lead disappear in the second quarter.  Then, forging a 24-10 lead, Colorado had once again permitted the Wildcats to tie the score.  Now, a 31-24 lead, obtained just a few minutes earlier, had been squandered.  Overtime seemed inevitable – an overtime against a team which had scored 21 fourth quarter points on the suddenly porous Colorado defense.

I was despondent, sitting alone in a high school cafeteria.

In charge of our Lions Club midget basketball league, I couldn’t travel to Boulder for the KSU game because the first games for our twelve boys’ teams and ten girls’ teams were set for that weekend.  On Saturday, the teams were practicing, and I was at the high school for part of the afternoon.

When KSU scored to tie the game, I knew it instantly.  Not because the game was on television, but because I was on my cell phone, listening to Brad as he gave me the play-by-play as he listened to the game on the radio. Talking with Brad, we were both stung by recent developments.  Contemplating overtime, we spoke in soft tones as the final sequence of plays ran out:

First down at the Colorado 23-yard line.  30 seconds remaining.  Incomplete pass attempt to (senior) Mike Duren.

Second down and ten at the Colorado 23.  Incomplete pass attempt to (senior) Ron Monteilh.

“Way to be a senior, Ron”, I muttered into the phone.  The Buffs were well on their way to overtime and a potential loss.  It would be a loss which would end any speculation about the Big 12 North, and would force Colorado to win in Lincoln against Nebraska just to be considered bowl-eligible.

Brad cursed in agreement with my slander.  By any account, including Monteilh’s, the senior’s final season as a Buff had been a bust.  Only 192 yards on 21 catches on the year.  No touchdowns.  Now, Monteilh’s final home game was heading for Colorado infamy.

A thirteen yard run by Lawrence Vickers gave Colorado a new set of downs, but now less than twenty seconds remained, and the Buffs had only progressed as far as their own 36-yard line.  Even with one of the best kickers in the game in Mason Crosby, the Buffs would need a miracle to pull out the game in regulation.

But, this day was just such a day.

Ten years after the “Miracle in Michigan”, a 64-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook, quarterback Joel Klatt connected with Ron Monteilh – yes, than Ron Monteilh – for a 64-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

It was Monteilh’s first career touchdown catch.  “You ask for a good ending, but you don’t think it will end like this,” said Monteilh.  “First score, last game, last drive in Folsom Field, this does make up for a lot that has gone on in my career here.”

“He’ll remember that forever,” said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

Happy Senior Day, Ron.

 Game Notes:

– Mason Crosby had a 51-yard field goal against Kansas State, giving Crosby five field goals of over 50 yards on the season. Was that a new school record? Guess so. No other kicker in Colorado history had ever kicked as many three field goals of over 50 yards – in a career.

– One record that Bobby Purify could call his own: He became the first Buff in school history to rush for over 2,500 yards and have over 500 yards receiving.

– Ron Monteilh’s first touchdown day also was his first 100-yard receiving day (it was the third of the season for the Buffs: Blake Mackey had over 100 yards v. Oklahoma State; Dusty Sprague had over 100 yards receiving against Texas A&M).

– Buffalo Heart Award winners before Bobby Purify: Darrin Chiaverini (1998); Mike Moschetti (1999); Eric McCready (2000); Cortlen Johnson (2001); Tyler Brayton (2002); Medford Moorer (2003).

– Two other seniors had memorable days against Kansas State. Senior wide receiver Mike Duren was given his first career start, while senior defensive tackle Brandon Dabdoub was given his first start of 2004.

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