December 30th – Independence Bowl            Alabama 30, Colorado 24

Colorado played about as wretchedly as a team can for the first 20 minutes of the 2007 PetroSun Independence Bowl against Alabama, but still made a game of it at the end. The Buffs fell behind 27-0 before rallying, coming up just short in a 30-24 loss to the Crimson Tide before 47,043 in Shreveport, Louisiana. The loss left the Buffs with a 6-7 overall record, finishing with a losing record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1983-‘84.

Alabama opened the contest with a field goal, scoring on its first possession of the game for the tenth time in 13 tries in ‘07. The Tide put together a 44-yard drive to the Colorado 23 yard line before settling for a 40-yard field goal by kicker Leigh Tiffin. The Buffs’ first drive lasted all of one play. Freshman quarterback Cody Hawkins, who had not thrown an interception in his previous 70 attempts, hit Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain right between the numbers, setting up the Crimson Tide at the CU 15-yard line. The Buffs’ defense held, however, forcing another Tiffin field goal.

Down 6-0, the Buffs posted their only first down of the quarter on a 12-yard end around by senior wide receiver Dusty Sprague. On fourth-and-two at the Alabama 45 yard line, the Buffs went for a fake punt, but up-back Byron Ellis was stopped for no gain. The Crimson Tide then drove quickly down the field, covering 55 yards in only six plays, with a 15 yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Parker Wilson to Keith Brown giving Alabama a 13-0 lead ten minutes into the game.

Already down two scores, the Buffs fell into a funk which had cost them dearly in blowout losses to Missouri and Kansas State. Colorado’s next two offensive possessions: six total plays; two total yards. Meanwhile, John Parker Wilson played pitch and catch with his receivers. After the Buffs punted following the Keith Brown touchdown, the Crimson Tide required only five plays to cover 63 yards, with Wilson connecting with Matt Caddell for a 34 yard score to up the Alabama lead to 20-0. Another punt led to yet another Tide touchdown. This time Wilson hit Nikita Stover for 31 yards and a score to culminate a 65 yard drive. With 12:20 left to play in the first half, the Independence Bowl scoreboard read: Alabama 27; Colorado 0.

Colorado did record its second first down of the game in its next possession before punting the ball away yet again. Two quick first downs put the Tide back in Buff territory, and it seemed possible at that moment that Independence Bowl officials would be forced to thumb through their rule books at halftime in search of some sort of mercy rule to avoid having the teams come back out for the second half.

Then, the play of the game for Colorado.

After penalties forced Alabama into a second-and-16 at midfield, Wilson was intercepted by CU safety Ryan Walters. Walters returned the pick 35 yards to the Alabama 43-yard line, giving the Buffs new life. An eight play drive was capped off by a four yard touchdown pass from Cody Hawkins to tight end Tyson DeVree. The score came with 2:05 left before halftime, making the score 27-7. If nothing else, Buff fans could find solace in the fact that the score extended the Colorado scoring streak to 235 consecutive games.

But the Buffs were not yet done. The Colorado defense forced a punt from the Alabama offense for the first time on the night on the Tide’s next possession, giving the Buff offense the ball back at the CU 36 with 1:11 to play before the break. Against a prevent defense, the Buffs moved swiftly down the field. With no times out remaining, and the clock winding down under 20 seconds, the Buffs faced a third-and-nine at the Alabama 25. Conventional wisdom called for a spike of the ball and a field goal attempt, but the Buffs went for the big play and were rewarded. Cody Hawkins hit Dusty Sprague near the Alabama three yard line, and the senior receiver dove into the end zone from there. Down 27-0 ten minutes earlier, it was now a game at halftime, with Alabama leading, 27-14.

With thoughts of coming back from an 11-point halftime deficit to Nebraska surely in the Buffs’ heads, the third quarter opened with an impressive drive by the Buffs’ offense. Three first downs put Colorado at the Alabama 29 yard line, and the few thousand Colorado fans who made the trip to Shreveport were finally being heard. The Buffs’ momentum, though, was curtailed a few minutes later, when a 48-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Kevin Eberhart sailed wide left.

The Alabama offense, which could do no wrong in the first quarter, barely saw the field in the third quarter. The Tide offense notched one first down before punting the ball back to the Buffs. Colorado was forced to start on its own three yard line, but the Buffs strung together a 76-yard drive. This time Eberhart was true, hitting a 39-yard field goal to pull the Buffs to within ten at 27-17, with three minutes to play in the third quarter.

Two plays later, the Buffs had the ball back. CU linebacker Jeff Smart stripped Alabama receiver Matt Caddell near midfield, with the fumble recovered by Buff defensive back Cha’pelle Brown. A 22-yard pass from Hawkins to running back Brian Lockridge gave the Buffs a first-and-ten at the Alabama 30 yard line to start the fourth quarter. Though still down ten, it seemed as if all of the elements for a record comeback had fallen into place for Colorado.

The next few minutes, though, doomed the Buffs to the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” post-game quotes which had made 2007 such a roller coaster ride of emotions.

A sack of Cody Hawkins took the Buffs out of field goal range to halt the promise of the drive after the fumble recovery. The Colorado defense again forced a punt, with the Buffs taking over at their 20 yard line. Down ten, but with 8:39 still to play, there was still time. Unfortunately for the Buffs and their fans, the next Cody Hawkins pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, then intercepted by Alabama’s Darren Martin. Taking over at the CU 22 yard line, the Crimson Tide had the chance to put the game out of reach, but failed to do so. The Colorado defense, which had held firm since early in the second quarter, did so again, forcing a third Tiffin field goal, this one from 26 yards out. With 4:36 to play, Alabama led, 30-17.

The Buffs required only 45 seconds to make the score 30-24. In five plays, Colorado covered 69 yards, with the final 14 coming on a second connection between Hawkins and tight end Tyson DeVree. For the first time since late in the first quarter, the Buffs were within one score of the lead.

Taking over with 3:51 to play, Alabama was able to run out all but one second on the clock, managing two first downs before punting the ball back to Colorado. A hook-and-lateral from Hawkins to Sprague to center Daniel Sanders to receiver Cody Crawford netted 25 yards, but the game ended with the ball at the CU 45 yard line.

30-24, Alabama.

“I’m very proud of our guys,” said head coach Dan Hawkins after the game. “They could have folded the tent, but they fought back and showed incredible resolve.” The coach’s take on the game was echoed by his players. Tight end Tyson DeVree, whose two touchdown catches in a game tied a CU bowl record: “That is what Colorado football is all about. We never give up. They came out and hit us in the mouth early, that is for sure, but we fought back hard, and we gave it all we had, but we just ran out of time.” Said senior tailback Hugh Charles, who had 69 yards rushing on the evening, about the comeback, “Just heart. We had all kinds of emotion, especially us seniors. We wanted to win tonight, but that did not happen. I am very proud of our team because we fought all the way to the end.”

After falling behind 27-0, the Buffs did fight back.

At one point in the second quarter, Alabama had 271 yards of total offense to just 50 for Colorado. By the end of the game, the Buffs actually had the edge in total offense, gaining 397 yards to the Tide’s 388. Alabama’s only three points of the second half came after an interception giving the ball to the Crimson Tide at the Buffs’ 22 yard line.

The 2007 PetroSun Independence Bowl was the 2007 season in microcosm for the Colorado football program. There were moments of brilliance; there were moments of utter frustration. In the end, the Buffs were a middling program which showed signs of greatness, but also showed signs that there was a long way to go before the program was to be back amongst the elite of college football. Colorado “woulda, coulda, shouda” beat Alabama, but got it its own way, with the net result another frustrating loss.

It will be interesting to see whether the 2008 Buffs will be able to get over that hump, and return the program to the national spotlight.

Here is the YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

 

 

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