While September 11th is certainly etched into our memories for other reasons, there have been other happenings on that date which bring about happier thoughts. Overall, the Buffs are 4-2 on September 11th. Included on that list is a game against Washington State played in 2004. The game was originally to be played on September 15, 2001, but was postponed after the events of September 11th.  Also on 9/11, the Buffs, in 1971, beat 9th-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge (details below), and lost to Cal in Bill McCartney’s first game as head coach at Colorado.

CU on September 11th – 4-2.  1971 – LSU W 31-21; 1976 – Texas Tech  L 24-7 ; 1982 – Cal  L 31-17; 1993 – Baylor  W 45-21; 1999 – San Jose State  W 63-35; 2004 – Washington State – W 20-12.

September 11th – Colorado – best game on this date

Colorado 20, Washington State 12 (@Seattle) – September 11, 2004

For the second time in as many weeks, the Colorado defense preserved a Buff win in the game’s waning moments.  Against Washington State, senior defensive tackle Matt McChesney recovered a fumble by Cougar quarterback Alex Brink at the CU two-yard line with just seconds remaining, sealing a 20-12 victory.  “I was getting the ball,” said McChesney of his recovery.  “I think somebody might have had it (first), but I got the ball.”

 On a sunny afternoon at Seattle’s Qwest Field, the Buff defense stepped up when the CU offense sputtered.  Colorado’s defense had eight sacks, an interception return for a touchdown, and two fumble recoveries.  “Our defense just picked it up,” said Gary Barnett.  “They told us in the locker room that they had our back at halftime, and they did it.”

 What the defense did was mask an awful showing by the CU offense.  The Buffs had only 125 yards of total offense on the day, and only seven first downs.  Joel Klatt produced only 78 yards through the air, and the CU rushing attack was held to a net of 47 yards.  Conversely, Washington State had 402 yards of total offense. 

 How then, did the Buffs manage to emerge 2-0 on the season?

 The game was tied, 3-3, at halftime, thanks to Mason Crosby’s second 50+ yard field goal in as many weeks.  In the third quarter, CU free safety Tyrone Henderson blocked his second punt of the day.  The first blocked punt managed to get past the line of scrimmage, but this punt rolled back into the Cougar end zone, where it was recovered by CU V-Back Lawrence Vickers and a 10-3 CU lead.  After a WSU field goal late in the third quarter cut the Buff lead to 10-6, redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Sanders, substituting for injured starter Brian Iwuh, intercepted an Alex Brink pass and raced 51 yards for a 17-6 Colorado advantage with 9:13 remaining.

 Just had been the case against CSU, however, the Buffs could not stand the prosperity of a double-digit lead.  After holding the Cougars out of the end zone for three quarters, the Buff defense surrendered a score in just over a minute, as Brink hit wide receiver James Hill for a 60-yard touchdown. The lead remained at five points, 17-12, a few moments later, when the Cougars’ two-point conversion attempt failed.

 With momentum on the side of the home team, the Buffs needed a lift.  They got one from Terrence Wheatley, who returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards, setting up a 41-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, giving the Buffs a 20-12 lead.  Washington State then drove 54 yards in eight plays before McChesney’s fumble recovery saved the day.

 “Maybe that’s who we are this year,” Barnett said.  “We’re just going to find some way to win and not worry about who’s on the field and how good individually we are. We’re going to be good as a team.” 

 And in the Big 12 North, being good as a team had new meaning.  While the Buffs were defeating Washington State, other contenders in the North Division were showing their vulnerabilities that same weekend.  Kansas State, ranked 13th in the nation, was dismantled at home, 45-21, by Fresno State.  Missouri, in at #19, lost on the road, 24-14, to Troy State.  Nebraska, playing its first game against a Division 1-A team under new head coach Bill Callahan, lost to Southern Mississippi at home, 21-17.  With Iowa State falling to Iowa, 17-10, only Colorado and Kansas were left undefeated in the North Division (and Kansas had only played – and beaten – football powerhouses Tulsa and Toledo). 

Gary Barnett summed up the status of the cardiac kids who were the 2004 Buffs.  “There aren’t enough wins.  You appreciate every one you get in life,” said Barnett.  “They don’t ever come down the way you thought they would come.  So when they don’t come down that way, you tend to label it ugly.”

“They don’t put UW in the press guide,” concluded Barnett.  “They just put W”.

The 2-0 Buffs now returned home to face North Texas.  The Mean Green were 0-2, having been dominated by Texas, 65-0, and surprised by Florida Atlantic, 20-13.  On paper, the game looked like an easy path to the Buffs’ first 3-0 start since 1998. 

But the 2004 Buffs were not familiar with easy paths.

Best Games in College Football History – September 11th

1971 – Colorado 31, #9 Louisiana State 21 – Playing LSU for only the second time in school history (the Buffs and Tigers met in the 1962 Orange Bowl, with LSU prevailing, 25-7), Colorado upset the 9th-ranked Tigers, 31-21. The Buffs triple option attack amassed 293 yards rushing, led by tailback Charlie Davis (174 yards in his debut as a Buff), and wide receiver Cliff Branch, whose 75-yard punt return for a score upped the Buffs lead to 17-7. Starting halfback Jon Keyworth was lost for the season with a broken leg, giving the opportunity to Davis. For the Buffs’ defense, safety John Stearns had two interceptions.

1971 – #2 Nebraska 34, Oregon 7 – The Cornhuskers, the defending national champions, opened the 1971 season with a 34-7 drubbing of Oregon. The offense was led by quarterback Jerry Tagge and halfback Jeff Kinney, while the defense intercepted Duck quarterback Dan Fouts twice. With the win, Nebraska jumped over idle Notre Dame for the #1 spot in the polls. The Cornhuskers would keep the #1 ranking the remainder of the season, posting back-to-back national championships.

1976 – Louisiana State 6, #1 Nebraska 6 – September 11th wasn’t as kind to the Cornhuskers in 1976, as a tie with LSU knocked Nebraska out of the #1 position in the polls. Nebraska scored on its opening possession, but botched the extra point attempt. LSU kept the Cornhuskers from scoring again, while posting two field goals of its own. Nebraska was led by quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who was held to 125 yards passing on the day. The loss dropped Nebraska to 8th in the polls the following week, with the Cornhuskers finishing the season ranked 9th.

1976 – Missouri 46, #8 USC 25 – The Trojans had the name players, but it was the under-manned Tigers who carried the day, spoiling the debut of USC head coach John Robinson. Future NFL stars Ricky Bell (172 yards) and Charles White (79-yard touchdown run in his first game as a Trojan) were no match for a quarterback named Steve Pisarkiewicz, who threw three touchdowns in the upset. (USC would not lose again, and would finish #2 – behind Pitt – in the final polls).

1982 – Penn State 39, Maryland 31 – While the Terrapins quarterback, Boomer Esiason, would go on to have a better pro career, on the day it was Penn State’s Todd Blackledge who had the better of his counterpart. Blackledge passed for four touchdowns against Maryland, as Penn State won for the 19th-consecutive time in the series. For his part, Boomer Esiason put up 276 yards and two touchdown passes in the losing effort.

1999 – #1 Florida State 41, #10 Georgia Tech 35 – Two Heisman trophy candidates squared off in this match-up of top ten teams. Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 2000, passed for three touchdowns, including one to wide receiver Peter Warrrick. On the side of Yellow Jackets was quarterback Joey Hamilton, who would finish 2nd in the ’99 Heisman balloting (to Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne), passed for 387 yards and four touchdowns. Florida State would go on to win the national championship in 1999; Georgia Tech finished 20th.

2004 – Southern Mississippi 21, Nebraska 17 – Not as much was expected of Nebraska in 2004 as one would usually assume. The Cornhuskers, despite finishing with a 10-3 record in 2003, were unranked to start the 2004 season, in part because there was a new head coach, Bill Callahan, taking over for Frank Solich. The home loss to Southern Mississippi was Callahan’s first, as Southern Miss quarterback Dustin Almond was just effective enough to lead the Eagles. The Cornhuskers would go on to finish 5-6, missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1968.

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