Colorado v. UTEP – Houston Bowl – December 29, 2004

Bowling For Dollars

The Buffs reward for winning the Big 12 North in 2004 was a trip to Kansas City to face No. 2 Oklahoma, one of the most dominant teams in the country.

The result? A 42-3 debacle.

Still, Colorado was still 7-5 on the season, and was still the Big 12 North champions. The winning season merited an invitation to play in the EV1.Net Houston Bowl against the University of Texas, El-Paso (UTEP).

It had appeared that Colorado was going to be heading for the Champs Sports Bowl (formerly the Tangerine Bowl) in Orlando, Florida.  When the BCS final numbers were announced, though, Texas surpassed California in the calculations, sending the Longhorns to the Rose Bowl instead of the Golden Bears.  With Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 earning both earning BCS bids (Oklahoma was slated for the Orange Bowl to play USC), every other Big 12 bowl team moved up a notch, putting the Buffs in Houston.

UTEP was 8-3 under first year head coach Mike Price.  The Miners had won all of six games in the previous three years combined, so the infusion of a new coach had made a great difference.  Price, who had taken Washington State to the Rose Bowl, lost an opportunity to coach at Alabama with a scandal of his own.  After taking a year off from coaching, Price returned to college football to lead UTEP to a seven game improvement over 2003 (2-11 to 8-3).

The Miners not only had a better record than did the Buffs, they made the short trip to Houston with a decent resume.

Losses to bowl bound Arizona State and Boise State were offset by wins over bowl participants Fresno State and Hawaii.  UTEP had run off seven straight wins after starting the season 1-2.  The Miners had a 2,000-yard passer (Jordan Palmer, brother of Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer), and a 1,000-yard rusher in Howard Jackson.

Still, the Houston Bowl was a second-tier bowl.  With little else eye-catching to write about, the national media dubbed the 2004 Houston Bowl “The Redemption Bowl”.  Gary Barnett and Mike Price had both endured scandal, only to emerge with winning teams.

The Houston Bowl was also a trap game for the Buffs.  UTEP had everything to play for – the Miners’ first win over a Big 12 member since 1957 (11 games), the first bowl victory since 1967, and only the third nine-win season in school history.

The Buffs had no such lofty ambitions in mind.  A win would help erase the embarrassment of the Oklahoma game.  It would also serve, as some players were calling it, the first win of the 2005 season.

December 29th – Houston Bowl        Colorado 33, Texas El-Paso 28

Joel Klatt bounced back from a career-worst performance against Oklahoma to throw for 333 yards, leading Colorado to a 33-28 win over Texas El-Paso in the 2004 EV1.Net Houston Bowl.  Mason Crosby contributed four field goals as the Buff held off the Miners late for Colorado’s first bowl win in five years.

After Colorado took an early 3-0 lead, UTEP took control of the contest, holding the lead for almost three full quarters.  Running back Howard Jackson scored on a seven-yard run to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive to put the Miners up, 7-3, midway through the first quarter.  A Josh Chamois one-yard run made the score 14-3 after the first quarter.

Colorado mounted a comeback in the second stanza.

Freshman running back Hugh Charles scored from a yard out, and Mason Crosby hit a 54-yard field goal to cut the UTEP lead to 14-13, but Jordan Palmer hit Jayson Boyd from 17 yards out to give the Miners a 21-13 halftime advantage.

The second half witnessed a Colorado defensive resurgence, with the Buff defense giving the Buff offense the ball near midfield on three consecutive possessions.  The Colorado offense could not respond, garnering only three points from those three opportunities, making the score 21-16.  A third Mason Crosby field goal, this time from 20 yards out, cut the UTEP lead to 21-19 heading into the fourth quarter.

UTEP seemed in control after scoring early in the fourth quarter to go up 28-19.  But, as the Buffs had done all season, their resiliency showed through.

On the first play after the UTEP touchdown, Joel Klatt hit tight end Joe Klopenstein on a catch-and-run for a score which covered 78 yards.  Later, Klatt hit Evan Judge from 39 yards out to give the Buffs their first lead since early in the first quarter.  The game-winning drive was kept alive by a fake punt, with punter John Torp covering 22 yards to give the Buffs a first down and much needed momentum.  UTEP had two possessions after the Judge score, but never mounted a serious threat, as the Buffs held on to win, 33-28.

“Everything’s been a fight for us this year,” said Gary Barnett, now 2-2 in bowl games at Colorado.  “We were determined on August 5th (start of fall practice) that we’d be a team that would fight and stay together.”

Two plays turned the tide for the Buffs.

The first was the Klopenstein touchdown covering 78 yards to pull Colorado to within two at 28-26.  The 6′ 6″ junior tight end caught the ball near midfield, stiff-armed one defensive back, then outraced another to the endzone.  “It totally changed the momentum of the game,” said senior offensive tackle Sam Wilder.  “To come back and answer like that, I don’t think UTEP has had that happen to them.  They didn’t know how to respond.”

The second play was the Torp fake punt.  Facing a fourth-and-three at the Buff 35, down 28-26 with ten minutes remaining, Barnett decided to gamble.  “We’d been saying all week to watch the fake punt,” lamented UTEP head coach Mike Price.  “We watched it all right.  We watched the guy run.”

The win gave the Buffs an 8-5 final record.  Iowa State, with a 17-13 win over Miami (Ohio) in the Independence Bowl, finished at 7-5.  The other four Big 12 North teams finished with losing records.  While the Buffs had not dominated many games during the season (even falling behind North Texas 7-0 and 14-7), the eight wins still were the envy of the Big 12 North.

Not bad for a team who practiced in the spring without a head coach, and was the subject of bad publicity nationwide.  Not bad for a team with only four senior starters on offense, and only one senior starter on defense.

Not bad at all.

Here is the YouTube video of the game … 


Goin’ Back to Houston

Growing up in Bozeman, Montana, in the 1970’s, there were only two radio stations.  There was KBMN, which none of us listened to because it was mostly news and old music (and I mean old, as in ‘30’s and 40’s stuff).  That left KXXL, which was a country station.  (We didn’t even get an FM station until I was in high school.)  I didn’t grow up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  I grew up with John Denver and Linda Ronstadt.

Why mention this?  When it was announced that Colorado would be traveling to Houston for the EV1.Net Houston Bowl to play Texas El-Paso, a song kept playing in the back of my head.  It was an old Dean Martin tune (how’s about that for old?) about Houston.  As best I can remember, the chorus went something like this:

Oh, it’s lonesome in this old town

Everybody puts me down

Nobody calls me friend

It’s sad, the shape I’m in …

Goin’ back to Houston … Houston … Houston…

I had some thoughts about making the trip.  The game was mid-week between Christmas and New Year’s.  The office would be quiet, and while our kids would be home for Christmas, they would be gone after the 26th.  I spoke briefly with Brad Geiger, fellow Buff traveler for 23 of my 25 years since landing in Boulder, about going, but we were both ambivalent.

Then I got a call from Shawna.

Shawna, Brad’s wife, called me at work a few days after the Big 12 title game.  I found out quickly why she had called me directly – she wanted to give Brad a trip to Houston as a Christmas present.  In order to make the trip worthwhile, though, she wanted me to go with Brad.  The catch was that Shawna wanted to keep the trip a secret until Christmas.  I agreed, and that night I spoke with Brad, telling him that I wasn’t really all that interested in making the trip.

The surprise in place, I made plans for a return trip to the nation’s fourth-largest city.

My first trip to Houston was less than stellar.

Colorado had been invited to play Baylor in the 1986 Bluebonnet Bowl.  I drove down from Denver with two fellow law students (unfortunately, neither of them was Brad).  It was a very long drive.  Colorado lost the game, 21-9.  Then, I was stood up by my friends on New Year’s Eve because they wanted to go to a fancy club with a dress code, and I had only packed jeans for the trip.

Not the best of memories.

The 2004 trip, however, was quite the opposite.  I was able to spend a few days with Brad, something we hadn’t done together since wives and kids altered priorities.  We had great seats right behind the Colorado bench for the game, courtesy of Brad’s aunt and uncle.  Plus – and this was a very big plus – Colorado held on to win, 33-28, over UTEP.

Goin’ back to Houston worked out well.

I was willing to return.  In fact, my sentiments were not unique, and many Colorado players were anxious to return as well.  Not necessarily for the EVI.Net Houston Bowl, mind you, but for the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game, which was slated to be held in Reliant Stadium in Houston.  “No if’s, ands, or buts about it,” said running back (and Houston native) Lawrence Vickers.  “We’re coming back.  We’re going to be really, really great next year.  We have too many players coming back for us not to be.”

It was a nice sentiment.  With the Big 12 North still in disarray, and with Colorado returning seven starters on offense for 2005, another ten on defense, and All-American candidates back at both kicking positions, Vickers may have had a point.  After all, it was Vickers who said, when the Buffs were 2-4 in conference play, “Why not us?”

For the moment, it was okay to look past having to play Miami, Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State on the road in 2005.  For the moment, it was okay to ignore the looming civil trial on the allegations of sexual misconduct and the lasting impact of recruiting restrictions.  For the moment, it was okay just to savor the Buffs’ eight-win season, four of which came in the final moments.  For the moment, it was okay to revel in heading off to the off-season with a bowl win for the first time in five years, dreaming of goin’ back to Houston.

 Game Notes

– The Klatt-to-Klopenstein 78-yard touchdown pass was the longest in Colorado bowl history. The previous best was a 76-yard touchdown pass from Koy Detmer to Rae Carruth in the 1996 Holiday Bowl (a 33-24 win over Washington).

– Joel Klatt did set the mark for the best completion percentage by a Colorado quarterback in a bowl game (24-of-33, 72.7%), but his 333 yards was not a record. That record remained with Koy Detmer, who had 371 yards in the 1996 Holiday Bowl win over Washington.

– Kicker Mason Crosby set two team bowl records against UTEP. His 54-yarder was the longest ever, besting the 49-yard effort by Mitch Berger in the 1993 Aloha Bowl (a 41-30 win over Fresno State), and his four field goals bettered the three field goals made by Jeremy Aldrich in 1998 Aloha Bowl (a 51-43 win over Oregon).


One Reply to “Houston Bowl – CU v. UTEP – Goin’ back to Houston”

  1. This game is perhaps one of the most overlooked/under-appreciated Buff games in the “modern era.”

    Reliant was maybe 1/3 full. UTEP hadn’t been bowling in forever. UTEP came in hot. There was a clear UTEP fan advantage in the seats. Mike Price was seeking redemption after his Roll Tide episode. The Buffs were under fire in the Boulder and national media. Jordan Palmer blah blah blah.

    My best memory is of the Buffs fans who gradually migrated to the CU fan section early in the 2nd half, then continued to be loud and proud throughout the 2nd half. I was one of those fans. Chanting, LOUD, and dedicated. All of us.

    Barnett’s Evil Fake Punt Plan actually worked for a change!!

    I don’t think I was ever as proud of the Buff squad (post 80s-90s) as I was that evening. A very trying season and one where we had every reason to quit. The Buffs counter-punched and the defense bowed up when it needed to.

    And thank goodness for Mason Crosby. He provided those little barbs (and three points a barb) when the Buffs most needed them.

    That’s what I remember. S2S.


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