September 9, 2006 – at Denver           Colorado State 14, Colorado 10

Colorado State quarterback Caleb Haine ran for one touchdown and passed for another, leading the Rams to a 14-10 win over Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver. The contest, in which the two teams went for less than 400 yards of total offense combined, broke CU’s three-game winning streak in the series.

As had been the case against Montana State the weekend before, the game started out well for the Colorado offense. The Buffs took the opening kickoff and marched smartly down the field, covering 65 yards in just under five minutes to take the lead. Quarterback Bernard Jackson, making his first career start, had runs of ten and 14 yards for first downs, finishing off the drive himself, scoring on a three-yard run.

As had been the case against Montana State the weekend before, however, the game’s opening drive turned out to be the main CU highlight of the afternoon.

Two possessions later, Colorado State tied the game. Ram quarterback Caleb Haine matched Cox’s three-yard scoring run with one of his own, tying the score late in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, sophomore linebacker Marcus Burton forced a Ram fumble, with defensive back Terrence Wheatley recovering for the Buffs at the Ram 36-yard line. The Buffs were unable to muster a first down, however, settling for a 40-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a 10-7 lead.

Later in the second quarter, CSU quarterback Caleb Haine, who completed his first 14 passes of the game on his way to a 20-for-23 afternoon, hit Kory Sperry for a five yard touchdown. The score gave Colorado State a 14-10 lead with four minutes to play in the second quarter … and closed out the scoring for the day.

In the second half, the Colorado offense posted only two first downs and 28 yards of total offense. Though within one play of retaking the lead in the final two quarters, the Buffs did not cross its own 41-yard line on any of its last three possessions, and finished the game with only 146 yards of total offense.

The loss wasted a good game from the Colorado defense, which held the Rams to 15 yards of rushing offense (on 34 attempts), and 233 yards of total offense.

The loss left Colorado with an 0-2 record to open the season for the first time since 2000, with non-conference games against ranked non-conference foes – Arizona State and Georgia – still to be played.

Buying In – Clip and Save

The aftermath of the Colorado loss to Colorado State brought about more than the usual hand-wringing in Buff land. Colorado was 0-2, but, more importantly, the Buffs were on a six game losing streak for the first time since my freshman year, 1980.

With the next two games against opponents ranked nationally, things looked bleak in Boulder, indeed.

The question marks surrounding the program were plenty:

– Was Hawkins the right man for the job?

– How was it possible that the Buffs’ offense, during the six game losing streak, had been held to, respectively, 16 points, then 3, 3, 10,10, and 10?

– How could the Buffs have lost to a Colorado State team which was, by most accounts, not much better than the squads which had posted 4-7 and 6-6 records the past two seasons?

– How the Hell could a Buff team – any Buff team – have lost to a 1-AA school? (And why, dear God, did it have to be Montana State??)

– How much worse would it get?

It was the first and the last questions which filled the minds of the Buff faithful in the week leading up to the Arizona State game.

It was hard to remain neutral in the Hawkins debate. Bernie Lincicome of the Rocky Mountain News declared: “It is not just that CU has lost under its new redeemer, nor that the Buffs may not win for another month, it is that the man in charge seems as clueless as the players on the field.” Linicome went on to conclude, “Oh, no, there is nothing funny about what is happening in Boulder. It is all very serious. Much more serious than anyone thought.”

On the other side of the debate was Neill Woelk of the Boulder Daily Camera. Woelk entitled his column the Monday morning after the CSU loss, “Nothing has changed at CU, Hawk still the right guy”. The Camera Sports writer opened his column with the statement: “Feel free to clip this column this morning. Tuck it away in a safe place, then check back with me in a couple of years.”

Woelk’s opinion was that Dan Hawkins was still the “right guy” for Colorado, going on to list how Hawkins was the right coach, with the right attitude to correct the mediocrity which had become the CU football program.

Yes, Woelk conceded, the Buffs had won four division titles in the past five seasons, but he went on to correctly point out that those rings were earned as much the result of the slides of the Nebraska and Kansas State programs (not to mention the inability of Iowa State to find a reliable kicker) as it was any heroics of the home team. Nebraska had shocked the college football world some two seasons earlier by removing Frank Solich before a bad situation had gotten worse, but the move made the Cornhuskers dip into the pool of the common a short one, and Nebraska was again a nationally ranked team.

For me, the moment I bought into the Woelk line of thinking occurred immediately after the final gun at Invesco Field – not exactly a moment of high optimism. The Buffs had finally succumbed, 14-10, to rival Colorado State, and the Ram players were storming the field in jubilation. Many of the Buff players made the slow walk toward the euphoric pile of players in green and gold, while a few others began the slow walk in the other direction toward the locker room.

Colorado was 0-2.

I felt terrible. I watched in numbed silence.

Then suddenly, I noticed one man running down the Buffs’ sideline. As most of those on the CU side of the playing field were walking at a pace normally reserved for funeral processions, the blur stood out. I tried to focus on who it was, but the distance from way up in Section 507 to the field was significant.

The stocky build, though, was unmistakable.

It was CU head coach Dan Hawkins.

The Buffs’ new coach was not at midfield, seeking out his counterpart, CSU head coach Sonny Lubick, for the requisite congratulatory handshake. Instead, Hawkins was racing down the sideline to head off any Buff player looking to slink into the safety of the locker room. Hawkins was grabbing individual players by the shoulder pads, turning them around. The message was clear, even from Section 507.

Hawkins was telling his players to stay on the field and congratulate the winning team.

It was this act of sportsmanship that, at the time, made me a Hawkins believer. Yes, the Buffs were 0-2. Yes, the Buffs were on a losing streak not seen in over a quarter of a century of play. Yes, Colorado had two games coming up against ranked opponents. Less than ten days into September, and the realization was sinking in that was entirely possible the Buffs could finish with their worst record since the 1984 team went 1-10.

All conceded. Yet, I still believed in the new coach. Dan Hawkins had been successful at every level of play, from high school to NAIA to a mid-major Division 1-A school. There was nothing in his resume or his demeanor to suggest that he could not turn the Buffs around.

It would just take longer than we thought.

Just as the painful losing seasons in the early 1980’s had made the later championships all the sweeter, so too would the suffering in the early stages of 2006 make for more jubilant celebrations down the road.

Or so I – and Neill Woelk – thought at the time.


Game Notes –

– Matt DiLallo had a 73-yard punt in the second quarter against the Rams, the longest by a freshman in CU history;

– Mason Crosby hit what would have been a 61-yard field goal in the third quarter, but officials ruled that CSU had called a time out right before the kick. On Crosby’s next attempt, the kick went wide left;

– Defensive end Abraham Wright had three sacks against the Rams, the most by a Buff in a single game in two seasons;

– In addition to quarterback Bernard Jackson, two other Buffs had their first career starts against Colorado State. Senior Dan Goettsch earned his first career start at tight end, while red-shirt freshman safety Troy Walters also started. Goettsch would go on to start two other games, collecting three catches for 28 yards on the season. Walters, meanwhile, would go to start nine of the next ten games, finishing the 2006 season fifth on the team in tackles, with 57, and second on the team in interceptions, with two.

– Colorado State would go on to win two of its next three games, opening the 2006 season with a 4-1 record. The Rams, however, would then fall apart, losing its final seven games of the season, finishing with a 4-8 overall record.


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