September  3, 2005 – Boulder           Colorado 31, Colorado State 28

For the fourth year in a row, the “Rocky Mountain Showdown” between Colorado and Colorado State came down to the final minute of play.

For the third year in a row, the Buffs prevailed.

Colorado opened its 2005 campaign by defeating the Rams, 31-28, before a sweltering Folsom Field record crowd of 54,972. Mason Crosby connected from 47 yards out with four seconds remaining to give the Buffs the victory.

Unlike 2003 and 2004, when the Buffs watched double digit leads evaporate against the Rams, only to win those games in the waning moments, much of the 2005 contest was controlled by the Rams.

The Rams took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a one-yard run by Jimmy Green. The Buffs then countered in the second quarter with ten unanswered points on a 32-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a one-yard run on fourth down by senior running back Lawrence Vickers.

The Colorado lead lasted just two minutes, however, as Buff killers Justin Holland and David Anderson hooked up on a one yard touchdown pass to give the Rams a 14-10 halftime lead.

The Rams stretched the lead to 21-10 late in the third quarter, and it appeared as if the Buffs would fall to Colorado State in Boulder for the first time since 1986.

The Buffs rallied, however, assisted by four Justin Holland interceptions. Sophomore running back Hugh Charles, who would post 101 yards rushing on the day, scored on a 29-yard run to cut the lead to 21-18 (after a two-point conversion pass from Joel Klatt to Evan Judge). With 2:32 remaining, the dependable Mason Crosby hit from 32 yards out to tie the score.

The game appeared headed for an overtime with the score tied at 21-21 … but the two teams were just getting warmed up.

After combining for 39 points in the first 57 minutes of play, the Buffs and the Rams posted 20 points in the final three minutes. After Crosby tied the score, Ram quarterback Justin Holland threw an ill-advised pass which was picked off by junior cornerback Gerett Burl. On the very next play, Hugh Charles scored on a highlight film run of 23 yards to give the Buffs their first lead since the second quarter, 28-21.

Not to be outdone, Holland marched the Rams down the field. Unlike a year earlier, when the Rams were stopped inside the Buffs’ five-yard line as time expired, Holland finished the drive. Holland hit Kory Sperry from eight yards out to tie the score at 28-all with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.

It again appeared that the game was heading for overtime, but a 30-yard kickoff return by Stephone Robinson on a squib kick gave the Buffs the ball at their 40. Joel Klatt hit red-shirt freshman Patrick Williams for 22 yards, then connected with sophomore Dusty Sprague for eight more, setting up Crosby’s 47-yard game-winner.

“That was one exciting game,” gushed Gary Barnett afterwards. “A classic for college football. That’s the way rivalries should be.”

Overall, the game’s statistics were about as close as the final outcome.

The Buffs out-gained the Rams, 396-386. Both teams passed well, (the Rams had the advantage, 291-283), while both struggled to establish the running game (CU had 113 yards to 95 for CSU).

The difference came in the one extra turnover. Colorado turned the ball over three times, but Justin Holland’s four interceptions allowed the Buffs to get back into the contest in the final fifteen minutes.

While there was much to celebrate in defeating Colorado State for the third consecutive year, there was still much work to be done. “We need to straighten up our sloppy play,” said Barnett of his team’s 87 yards in penalties. The inconsistent play did not ultimately hurt the Buffs against the Rams, and would not likely be of great detriment against Colorado’s next opponent, New Mexico State. Still, looming on the near horizon for the Buffs were games against perhaps the four most difficult 2005 opponents, including two games on the road against pre-season top ten teams in Miami and Texas.

The victory was sweet, but the Buffs could not afford to look past their next opponent.

New Mexico State was 0-1 on the new season, having fallen to the Buffs’ most recent bowl opponent, UTEP, 37-14. The Aggies were led by first-year head coach Hal Mumme, who had been successful at other programs (most notably Kentucky) with a wide open pass attack he labeled “Air Raid”.

With a secondary still earning respect, the New Mexico State game carried with it the possibility of exposing the Buffs’ greatest weakness.

Here is a YouTube video of the game-winning field goal, taken from the student section (Thanks to CU at the Gamer Paul for the find):

… and here’s the full game video …


The exhilaration in defeating a rival in the last minute is hard to quantify.

The joy in defeating a rival three times in a row is immensely satisfying.

Defeating a rival three times in a row, each time in the last minute – indescribable.

Standing – make that jumping up and down – as I watched the student section pour out onto the Folsom Field turf for the second year running against the Rams (the first win in this streak was at Mile High, where security and the need to find dry clothing after a deluge of Biblical proportions prevented a storming of the field), I was reminded why I watch college football.

You can have the professional game, with all of its superb athletes and precision play.

I’ll take the college game.

The emotional highs and lows of college football are like a drug. You need to feel it. You put up with the losses to soak in the wins. You put up with the long drives through desolate eastern Wyoming just to be a part of the action.

After the game, I watched the local television coverage. The local reporters caught CSU head coach Sonny Lubick before he had the chance to get into the locker room and allow the emotion of the moment to dissipate. Lubick’s comments were those of a coach who had just seen the opportunity to hang an embarrassing loss on “big brother” CU go for naught in the final seconds for the third year in a row. “Why are they storming the field?”, asked Lubick to no one in particular as he watched the CU students celebrate on the field. “We are just the little school up the road. Why are they celebrating like it’s the Super Bowl?”

My quotes may not be exact, but the sentiment is there. Lubick and his players were looking for respect, and no matter how many times the Buffs said the right things (Barnett: “Give the Rams credit – they fought hard and they are a great team”. Klatt: “We have to give credit to CSU for the way they played. They play so hard every year that the Buffs better be ready for them.”), the feeling could not be satiated with words.

The Rams wanted – make that needed – the win. Losing in the last minute every year just made the pain worse.

I understood the sentiment. For decades, the Buffs were looking for respect from Nebraska. Couldn’t get it. Had to win it on the field. Even after going 2-0-1 against the Cornhuskers from 1989-91, the respect wasn’t there. Then came a series of devastatingly close losses (the “frustrating five”): 17-12 in 1996; 27-24 in ‘97 (ending the Buffs’ bowl streak at nine seasons in a row); 16-14 in ‘98; 33-30 in ‘99 (in overtime), and 34-32 in 2000. Five losses by a total of 15 points. Each a game the Buffs could have – should have – won. Yet each was recorded by history as a loss.

The 2000 Colorado/Nebraska game immediately jumped to my mind after the CSU game.

In that game, a 3-7 Buff squad went to Lincoln to face the 9th-ranked Cornhuskers. With no business competing, the Buffs still hung tough. Then, as the fourth quarter ran down, quarterback Craig Ochs hit wide receiver John Minardi from 15 yards out to pull the Buffs to within 31-30 with 47 seconds remaining. Rather than play for overtime, Gary Barnett opted to go for the win. A two-point conversion pass from Ochs to Javon Green seemingly gave the Buffs the upset win.

On the ensuing kickoff, though, the Buffs squibbed the kick rather than kick for the end-zone. (Note: The rationale behind this strategy is that teams do not want the opponent to have an organized kick return). However, the Buffs’ squibbed kick was returned for good yardage, allowing Nebraska to get the ball down the field with enough time to kick the game-winning field goal. Barnett was vilified in the press for the decision to squib the kickoff.

Fast forward to 2005.

With 36 seconds remaining, the Rams tied the score. The CSU kicker had not allowed a decent kickoff return all afternoon. The Buffs, for their part, were resigned to overtime. “If we were to get the ball on the twenty,” said Joel Klatt after the game, “we were just going to kneel and take our chances in overtime.” But the Rams went with conventional wisdom and squibbed the kick. The result was a 30-yard return by Stephone Robinson, out to the Buffs’ 40-yard line.

Four plays later, the Buffs were 1-0; the Rams, 0-1.

(Not to underscore the obvious, but, unlike Barnett in 2000 after the Nebraska loss, Lubick, who a favorite of the local media, was not vilified for the call to squib the kickoff).

I understood Lubick’s frustration. Coming close against a team you are not supposed to beat doesn’t really count. Moral victories don’t matter in September, when thoughts of championships are still real. The Rams would have to wait another 365 days for a shot at redemption.

I understood Lubick’s frustration.

I was just glad that I didn’t have to share in it.

Game Notes

– Temperature for the 1:30 p.m., kickoff was 89 degrees, tied for sixth warmest game ever played by Colorado.

– The record crowd of 54,972 bested the old record, set against Colorado State in 2004, by 18 (54,954).

– Time spent in the lead clearly favored the Rams. CSU lead for 43:01 of the game; CU just 3:04.

– Joel Klatt passed for 283 yards against the Rams, giving him a career total of 4,963 yards, passing Mike Moschetti (4,797) and John Hessler (4,788) for third place on CU’s all-time list. Klatt also finished 3-0 as a starter against CSU, believed to be the first Buff quarterback to do so.

– Another Klatt record: Most passing yards against one opponent, career. His 283 yards gave him 802 over three games, besting the 746 yards put up by Kordell Stewart against Missouri (1992-‘94).


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