November 23rd – Colorado 65, Nebraska 51

Colorado evened its season record at 6-6, and its Big 12 mark at 4-4, with a record-setting 65-51 win over Nebraska. The Buffs put up the third highest point total ever against the Cornhuskers over the course of almost four hours before a frigid Folsom Field crowd of 51,403.

With the win (combined with a loss by Kansas State to Fresno State), the Buffs earned a bowl berth in the second season of the Dan Hawkins’ era, while simultaneously helping to seal the fate of Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan, who was dismissed by interim athletic director Tom Osborne the day after the game.

Given that the Nebraska defense came into the game ranked near the bottom nationally in most defensive categories, including rushing defense (114th out of 120 teams), total defense (111th), and scoring defense (105th), combined with a Colorado defensive unit which had surrendered 31 points to Iowa State in the second half of the Buffs’ previous game, predicting a shootout for the season finale was not difficult. The 116 points and 1,128 yards of combined offense, however, was more than anyone could have reasonably foreseen. “No lead is safe”, could well have the been the ABC promotional campaign for the Friday morning game between two 5-6 teams battling for a bowl bid, as both teams would surrender double digit leads before the game was over.

Colorado scored on its first three drives of the game, but no one in the stands wearing black and gold felt overly confident. After forcing a three-and-out by Nebraska to start the contest, the Buffs quickly drove down the field, with a pretty 33 yard pass connection from Cody Hawkins to tailback Hugh Charles placing the Buffs at the Cornhusker 11-yard line. The CU drive stalled, though, and the Buffs settled for a 25-yard Kevin Eberhart field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Nebraska quickly retaliated, needing only four plays to drive 67 yards to make the score 7-3, Nebraska, with quarterback Joe Ganz scoring on a 28 yard run.

Then it was the Buffs’ turn to respond. An 11-play, 74-yard drive was capped off by a Cody Hawkins five yard quarterback draw to put CU back on top, 10-7. After a Nebraska punt, Dusty Sprague finished off a 52-yard drive with a four yard run to give the Buffs a 17-7 advantage. Before the quarter was over, though, Nebraska cut the lead to 17-14 with a Marion Lucky two yard score.

The second quarter was almost all Nebraska, as the CU faithful began to wonder if the Buff defense would ever stop the Cornhuskers. After Nebraska’s second touchdown, the Buffs punted on three consecutive drives, allowing the Cornhuskers to take control. The Cornhuskers took a 21-17 lead on another rushing touchdown by quarterback Joe Ganz, this time from eight yards out. Next, Ganz connected with Maurice Purify for a 25 yard score to push the NU lead to 28-17. Then, after the Buffs had seemingly righted the ship just before halftime, with Cody Hawkins hitting tight end Tyson DeVree from 11 yards out to make the score 28-24, Nebraska, with 1:25 before halftime, moved quickly down the field, as the CU defense again was unable to hold back the Cornhusker offense. Nebraska needed only four plays and just over a minute of clock to cover 71 yards, with Ganz connecting with wide receiver Todd Peterson from 16 yards to make the score 35-24 with 23 seconds to play in the first half.

The carnage was there for anyone who wanted to look at the halftime statistics: 35 points surrendered by the Buffs; 19 first downs; 398 yards of total offense. Those were more than decent full game stats, and Nebraska had compiled those numbers in 30 minutes of play. When combined with the 31 points given up in the second half of the Iowa State game, the CU defense had now yielded 66 points in the last 60 minutes of play. The Colorado offense had held its own, putting up 24 points, but there were few in the stands who would have predicted what would happen over the course in the second half.

The second half would be the last thirty minutes of play for one of the two teams, and at halftime it looked as if that team would be the Buffs.

The second half opened innocently enough. The Buffs managed one first down to open the stanza before punting the ball back to the Cornhusker offense. Then, after two penalties turned a third-and-two into a third-and-twelve for Nebraska, unknown CU freshman cornerback Jimmy Smith made the play of the game. Smith, who was playing in his sixth game of the season, but had only been in on three tackles all year, intercepted a Joe Ganz pass and returned it 31 yards for a Colorado touchdown. The score was now Nebraska 35, Colorado 31, and there was new life on the CU sidelines.

The Smith touchdown seemed to unnerve the Cornhuskers, as Nebraska, which had been so dominant in the second quarter, fell apart in the third. On Nebraska’s next play from scrimmage, Ganz was intercepted again, this time by senior safety Lionel Harris, setting up the Buffs at the Nebraska 33 yard line. The Buffs needed only four plays to take the lead back, 38-35, as Hugh Charles scored from nine yards out.

Down for the first time since early in the second quarter, Nebraska netted one first down before being forced into punt formation. The kick, though, was blocked by CU senior defensive end Alonzo Barrett, with Jordon Dizon recovering the ball at the NU 25 yard line. Again, the Buffs only needed four plays to score. After an apparent touchdown pass from Cody Hawkins to Dusty Sprague was ruled down at the one yard line, Hugh Charles scored his second touchdown of the game. A missed extra point by Kevin Eberhart only slightly diminished the celebrations in the stands. A halftime deficit of 35-24 had turned, in less than ten minutes of playing time, into a 44-35 lead.

The Buffs were not done yet.

After forcing a three-and-out by the now rattled Nebraska offense, the Buffs put together an impressive 10-play, 84-yard drive to take a commanding 51-35 lead early in the fourth quarter. Cody Hawkins connected for his second touchdown pass of the game, this time hitting fellow freshman Scotty McKnight for a ten yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter. After an exchange of punts, CU sophomore cornerback Cha’pelle Brown put the game out of reach. Brown picked off Joe Ganz at the CU 47-yard line, returning the Nebraska quarterback’s third interception of the half 51 yards to the Cornhusker two yard line with 4:20 to play. A Hugh Charles two yard touchdown run, the third score of the day for the senior running back, gave Colorado a 58-35 lead, and the celebrations in the stands began in earnest as those clad in red made their way to the exits.

In the last two minutes of play, Nebraska scored two consolation touchdowns (with two point conversions). Sandwiched in between was a 28-yard touchdown run by senior running back Byron Ellis. When the Buffs recovered the Cornhuskers’ second onside kick in as many minutes to seal the game, the final score of 65-51 could finally be entered into the record books.

“We just wanted to win,” said Dan Hawkins after the game. “I thought our offense did a great job in the second half, and started wearing on them. Also, our defense came up with some turnovers which was big. The thing I am most proud of is seeing those seniors in the locker room pull this team together and come out in the second half strong. That was huge.”

The Colorado senior class, though relatively small, did itself proud against Nebraska. All-Big 12 cornerback candidate Terrence Wheatley did not play, but his fellow defensive star, linebacker Jordon Dizon, had 14 tackles in his Folsom Field finale. Senior safety Lionel Harris had his second interception of the year, and the fourth of his career, against the Cornhuskers. Senior defensive end Alonzo Barrett contributed three tackles, also contributing a blocked punt for the second time this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, five seniors scored against Nebraska. Kicker Kevin Eberhart, who labored behind All-American Mason Crosby for much of his career, finished with a team high 84 points on the season, hit on 15 of 23 field goal attempts on the year, including a 25 yarder against Nebraska (though Eberhart did miss his first extra point of the season after hitting his first 35). Wide receiver Dusty Sprague scored on a running play against the Cornhuskers, and had a touchdown catch reversed by instant replay. Sprague finished his career ranked 9th both in career receptions and receiving yards at CU.

Senior tight end Tyson DeVree scored on an 11-yard pass from Cody Hawkins in the second quarter against NU, giving DeVree team high six touchdown catches on the year. Senior running back Byron Ellis, who had over 500 yards rushing in his career, saved his best effort for his last play at home. Ellis’ 28 yard touchdown run with 1:23 to play, the fourth touchdown of his career (third rushing), was his longest play from scrimmage as a Buff.

Then there is Hugh Charles. What more can you say about Hugh Charles? Charles had 169 yards on 33 carries against Nebraska, scoring three times. Charles also had a 33-yard catch and 125 yards on five kickoff returns, giving the senior 327 all-purpose yards on the day, only the 7th time ever a CU player has had over 300 yards of total offense in a single game. Charles finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing on the season (989), a remarkable number considering Charles, due to injury, had only four carries in the first three games of the season.

While there were significant contributions by the seniors, there was still much to look forward to for the Buffs. The win over Nebraska made Colorado the Big 12’s eighth bowl-eligible team, and, when Kansas State fell to Fresno State in its finale to fall to 5-7, the number remained at eight. The bowl sight and opponent were yet to be determined, but that mattered little to the Buffs. “A bowl game is like a vacation,” said junior defensive tackle George Hypolite. “As long as it’s not home, it’s great.”

Great, indeed. At halftime at Ames against Iowa State, the Buffs were up 21-0, and a bowl bid seemed to be the least of their worries. At halftime at home against Nebraska two weeks later, after the Buffs had squandered the halftime lead against the Cyclones and had surrendered 35 points against the Cornhuskers, a bowl bid seemed like a distant dream for next year’s team. A 34-0 run gave the Buffs a new life, and new hope for the future.

Game Notes … 

— Hugh Charles – so many milestones. His 2,659 career rushing yards rank Charles sixth on the all-time rushing list. He joins Bobby Purify as only the second Buff to have over 2,500 yards rushing and over 500 yards receiving (552) in a career. His 169 yards against Nebraska give him 11 career 100-yard games, tying him for fifth on that list. Charles’ 327 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) against Nebraska give him 3,622 for his career, moving him from sixth to second on that list (behind only Eric Bieniemy at 4,351). (Note: CU does not count bowl statistics on all-time lists, so these are final numbers).

— Dusty Sprague – finishes ninth in both receptions for a career (103) and reception yards (1,261).

— Jordon Dizon – finishes third in all-time tackles (442), just ahead of Greg Biekert, and just behind Matt Russell and Barry Remington.

— The Baby Buffs, led by quarterback Cody Hawkins, set a number of freshman records, who has over ten all to himself. Scotty McKnight won the freshman receiving battle, finishing with 488 yards. Both McKnight and Josh Smith (451 yards) bested the old freshman season record of 337 (set by Chris McLemore in 1982).

— In addition to the freshman records, Hawkins also set a school record for passing attempts in a season (424), surpassing Joel Klatt’s record of 400 set in 2005. Hawkins finished the year with the second most completions ever (239 to Klatt’s 241); tied for third in yards with 2,693, and fourth in touchdowns (19). Hawkins also had 15 interceptions, one off the school record (but he did finish the season without an interception against either Iowa State or Nebraska – 70 passes overall). Hawkins is already ranked 11th on the all-time passing list at CU (too bad he is too short and can’t throw the deep ball!).

— Colorado is now 4-4 against Nebraska in the 2000’s, the best decade record for the Buffs since going 6-3-1 against the Cornhuskers in the 1950’s.

— The 51 points given up to Nebraska was the highest total for an opponent in a CU win since the Buffs gave up 47 in a 50-47 overtime win over Kansas in 2003.

— The 3:56 in game time was the longest ever for a non-overtime game for the Buffs (the CU/CSU game in 2003, a 42-35 CU win, went 3:53. The Buffs’ 46-39 overtime win over Missouri in 1999 took four hours).

— The weather (24 degrees; 12 mph winds) was not even the coldest CU/Nebraska game. That honor goes to the 1991 game (officially 12 degrees; wind child of -8).

— The combined total yards for both schools, 1,128 (610 for Nebraska; 518 for Colorado), was the most since CU (767 – a school record) and San Jose State (507) combined for 1,274 yards in 1999 (a 63-35 CU win).

— The 116 combined points by CU and NU trail only the 124 total points in the infamous 82-42 Oklahoma win over the Buffs in 1980.

— Colorado scored in a game for the 234th consecutive time, moving the Buffs into 9th place on the all-time list (breaking a tie with Nebraska). The Buffs also moved into 4th place on the active streak list, after Oregon lost this weekend to UCLA, 16-0. Oregon’s streak was stopped at 267 games, good for 6th on the all-time list.

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