September 2nd – Boulder            Montana State 19, Colorado 10

“Quite simply, it was one of the worst losses in CU history”, proclaimed the Boulder Daily Camera after the Colorado Buffaloes lost to the Montana State University Bobcats, 19-10, to open the Dan Hawkins era at Colorado.

The University of Colorado had never played a Division 1-AA team since the designation was created was in 1978, and after the Buffs’ offense managed only 216 total yards against the Bobcats, it could be argued that the Buffs might want to wait another 28 years before trying to make the same mistake again.

Quarterback James Cox made his third career start for Colorado, and while the senior did finish a game for the first time as a Buff, he wasn’t effective enough to push CU to a win. Cox opened the game with a 42-yard completion to sophomore Patrick Williams, leading to an opening field goal by senior kicker Mason Crosby. Little did the 45,513 on hand know, though, that the opening drive would be the highlight of the Buffs’ afternoon.

Montana State tied the game on a 35-yard field goal midway through the first quarter, then took its first lead early in the second quarter on a 44-yard field goal. The 6-3 deficit seemed to give the Buffs a wake up call, as the Colorado offense, which had been stagnant throughout the first half, put together a drive culminated in a one-yard quarterback sneak by James Cox and a 10-6 Buff lead.

After the break, Colorado suffered through one of the worst third quarters in recent memory (if your memory only went as far back as the third quarter of the 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game). The Buffs went three-and-out to open the quarter, while the Bobcats took their opening possession in for a score and a lead which they would never relinquish. The Buffs’ offense, despite the 13-10 deficit, continued to sputter, not making a first down until the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Bobcats played just well enough to keep the Buffs at bay. Two more field goals, the last coming with 2:58 to play, finally put an end to the Buffs’ misery, 19-10.

If anything, the loss could have been by a greater score.

Twice MSU had the ball inside the Buffs’ five yard line. On the first occasion, the Buffs held on fourth down as cornerback Terry Washington hit running back Evin Groves at the goal line, preventing a score. The second time, the Bobcats had first-and-goal at the CU one yard line, but had to settle for a 19-yard field goal.

Regardless of the score, the college football world was stunned to learn of the Colorado loss. “If you can’t understand how to deal with losing, you’ll never know how it is to win,” philosophized CU head coach Dan Hawkins after the game. “It’s only devastating if you let it be that way.”

Hawkins’ words fell largely on deaf ears amongst the Colorado faithful. Colorado was now on a five game losing streak, the worst such stretch for the Buffs since 1984 – so the Buff fans felt quite certain that they understood “how to deal with losing”. What they wanted now were some victories. Ever other team in the Big 12 save Baylor, which gave ranked TCU a scare before succumbing 17-7, won on the opening weekend.

Also in the victory column during the first weekend of games was the Buffs’ next opponent, rival Colorado State, 30-6 winners over Weber State. The Rocky Mountain Showdown game in Denver against the Rams was always important, but with ranked Arizona State and Georgia still left on the non-conference schedule, the game against Colorado State moved from the “important” category and into the “crucial” category for the Buffs.


You Can’t Go Home Again

When the NCAA announced in 2005 that a 12 game schedule was to become the standard in Division 1-A, I was relieved. Gone now would be the issue of arguing over playing CSU in Denver. The problem with the 11-game schedule was that the Buffs, if forced to play the Rams every year in Denver, would occasionally only have five home games in Boulder. This did not sit well with the local hotels and restaurants, who liked having six home games to fill their tills. As a result, the Buffs had played the Rams in Boulder in 2004 and again in 2005, with Ram fans howling that the Buffs were afraid to face CSU on a neutral field. With the inclusion of the 12th game on the schedule, the Buffs could have six games in Folsom Field every year – and still play CSU in Denver.

The NCAA announcement, though, left teams with little time to fill their schedules for 2006. Often, non-conference slates are made out up to a decade in advance. This created a first for the Buffs – a game against a Division 1-AA team. The NCAA created Division 1-AA in 1978, and until 2006, the Buffs had never lowered their standards to play a team from these lesser ranks.

Enter Montana State.

The Bobcats were a regional team looking for a paycheck. In 2005, MSU had played tough against Oklahoma State before falling, 15-10. In 2007, the Bobcats scheduled a game against Texas A&M. The deal was simple: Montana State needed the guaranteed check for to pay the bills of the athletic department; the Buffs needed a team willing to come to Boulder and lose.

When I first read the headline in the Bozeman paper about the matchup, sometime in the spring of 2005, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if the Buffs lost? This feeling though, quickly faded. It was not possible to lose to the Bobcats. The queasiness briefly reappeared during the first week of the 2005 season, when MSU played Oklahoma State close, but then dissipated again when the Buffs a few weeks later dispatched the same Cowboys, 34-0.

I expected grief about the game from those who knew of my affiliation with CU (translation: everyone) as game time grew closer. I was actually surprised, though, to get out of town without hearing too much about how the Bobcats held a 2-1 series edge over the Buffs (granted, all three games were played in the mid-1920’s, but still …).

My standard line, when asked about the game was, “CU had better win, otherwise I am going to have to move back to Boulder”. I said it tongue in cheek, as neither I nor any of the Bobcat faithful foresaw what was about to happen.

I can hardly remember going to a CU home game so confident in victory. You would have to go back to the 1989-91 or the 1994-96 runs to find CU such a prohibitive favorite (and many of those games, because they were not the glamour games, I did not attend in person).

After MSU went three-and-out to start the game, and CU marched smartly down the field, I was breathing even easier (though I did not appreciate having to settle for a field goal after making it down to the Bobcat seven yard line).

The rest of the first half, I, along with 45,000 or so of the 45,513 in attendance, kept waiting for the Buffs to explode. Even when the Bobcats took a 6-3 lead, I was confident in a CU win. When the Buffs answered with a touchdown to go up 10-6, we all sensed it was the beginning of the end for the ‘Cats. A fumble return back to the MSU seven-yard line was the high water mark for the Buffs – up four with a chance to go up by two scores midway through the second quarter. The fumble call was overturned on replay, however, and the Buffs never got close to scoring again.

The second half was pure Hell.

I kept staring down at my feet, clutching my hat, as the Buffs continued to shoot themselves in the foot. When MSU kicked its fourth field goal, this time with 2:58 left to put the game out of reach, all I could do was mutter, “I’ll never be able to live this down”.

When MSU went up by nine points, something odd happened at Folsom Field. Despite the impending loss, there was only a smattering of boos in the stands. No one got up to leave. At the end of the last home game, a 30-3 loss to Nebraska, there had been plenty of boos from those who hadn’t already left in disgust. This time, it was almost as if we were all too stunned to boo. It was too unbelievable.

The loss to Montana State was, quite simply, inconceivable. Devastating, stunning, and unfathomable were also terms muttered in Boulder.

For me, though, it was worse. It was highly unlikely that CU would schedule Montana State ever again. This meant that no matter how well CU did in the future, no matter how many games the Buffs won, I would always have to hear about it from the Bobcat fans. “Beat Nebraska, eh? Well, I guess Colorado finally found someone on their level”, was to become my destiny.

The only good news was that there would be some time before the MSU fans could get at me.

I had already arranged to spend the week after the MSU game in Colorado with Lee, spending time with Tony and Julie in Boulder, with my Dad in Jefferson, and with Brad and Shawna in Highlands Ranch. The CSU game was to be played the following Saturday in Denver, making it a must see. As I did not relish the idea of making the 700 mile drive four times in nine days, we decided to take the week off and spend it in Colorado.

That was the good news.

The bad news was that the delay in my return gave the Buff bashers, especially those in my Lions Club, an extra week to prepare to give me grief. I heard from Randy that there were plans afoot to have everyone wear MSU gear to the next Tuesday meeting, bringing copies of the Bozeman paper heralding the big win. During my week in Colorado, I plotted my response. Should I go early, taking on the jibes one by one? Should I come in late, and make an entrance? Should I wear MSU gear or Buff gear? How best to diffuse the situation to make it the least agonizing?

One sure fire way to help the cause would be if Colorado was a 1-1 team when I made it back to the Bozeman city limits.

If only…



Game Notes –

– A total of eight players had their first career starts against Montana State in the 2006 opener, with four on offense and four on defense. On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Patrick Williams, tight end Riar Geer, offensive lineman Devin Head and fullback Samson Jagoras all had their first starts. On defense, George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas were new starters along the line, with linebacker Brad Jones and safety Benjamin Burney also making their first career starts.

– When Mason Crosby kicked a 24-yard field goal to open the scoring, he also became CU’s all-time leading scorer, passing Eric Bieniemy, who had 254 points (1987-90). Crosby would go on to finish his career with 307 points.

– Crosby also broke a tie with Jeremy Aldrich for the most field goals, making his 48th against the Bobcats (by season’s end, Crosby would have 66 career field goals).

– The loss ended a run of 20 straight seasons in which the Buffs had won the season opener when scoring first.

– The 42-yard completion from James Cox to Patrick Williams on the first play of the game marked the longest play of the season for Colorado … Unfortunately for the Buffs, the 42 yards was one-fifth of CU’s total offensive production (216 yards) on the day.

– Montana State entered the game ranked No. 22 in the national 1-AA poll. The Bobcats would to on to post an 8-5 final season record, ranked 20th nationally.



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