CU Games of the Day – September 23rd

September 23rd … CU has a 1-2 record on this date over the past 40 years. It’s a relatively small number of games, but, remarkably enough, all three games involve games against Top Ten opponents. The ’95 game was a memorable win over No. 3 Texas A&M, while the 2006 game was a memorable (at least for those of us who made the trip) game in Athens v. No. 9 Georgia …

  • 1995: No. 7 Colorado 29, No. 3 Texas A&M 21 … Backup quarterback John Hessler stepped in for quarterback Koy Detmer, who was injured in the first quarter, leading the Buffs to an upset win over No. 3 Texas A&M … 
  • 2006: No. 9 Georgia 14, Colorado 13 … In one sense, the game was a huge disappointment, as an 0-3 Buff team led until the final minute, but I still have fond memories of the game – my first venture into SEC territory … Essay: “The Quiet Ride Back to Atlanta” … 
  • 2017: No. 7 Washington 37, Colorado 10 … The Buffs keep it close for three quarters, but, in the end, the road trip to Seattle wound up just like the 2016 Pac-12 championship game … Essay: “I’m Keeping My Towel” …   

Check out the stories for all three games below …

“Fightin’ Words” … Texas A&M, 1995

The lopsided win over Northeast Louisiana raised the 3-0 Buffs to No. 7 in the nation.  The next two opponents, though, would show if Colorado’s rise in the polls was merited.

The Aggies of Texas A&M were coming to Boulder for a top ten showdown, the first of Neuheisel’s coaching career.  Undefeated on the young season, Texas A&M featured Heisman-trophy candidates Leeland McElroy at halfback and Corey Pullig at quarterback.  In dominating Tulsa, 52-9, the week before the Colorado game, McElroy accounted for 285 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, while Pullig threw three passes for scores.

Rick Neuheisel, for one, was not intimidated by Texas A&M.

“We (the Colorado coaching staff and players) all have a great deal of respect for (Texas A&M)”, said the Buffs’ head coach.  “But we feel like we’re right with ’em and we’re not going to back down to anybody.  And if those are fightin’ words, so be it.  We’re ready to play Texas A&M.”

 September 23, 1995 – Boulder          No. 7 Colorado 29, No. 3 Texas A&M 21

A Folsom Field record crowd of 53,849 and a national ABC television audience looked on as the Colorado Buffaloes lost their leader in the first quarter, only to have a local boy turn out to be the hero in a huge 29-21 win over Texas A&M.

Back-up quarterback John Hessler, from nearby Brighton, Colorado, was called on to play against the vaunted Aggie defense after starter Koy Detmer went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter … and Hessler came through.

Hessler, backed by a staunch effort from the defense and some crafty play calling by Neuheisel, finished the day with adequate numbers (10-of-20 passing for 177 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions).  But the real story was how well Hessler, a red-shirt sophomore, stood up to the pressure.  Hessler came into the contest having thrown only 15 passes in his career, none with the first offensive unit.  “It was real nerve-racking when I first went in,” understated Hessler.  “I missed a lot of passes early, but I think Neuheisel had a lot of confidence in me to run the offense.”

How much confidence?

When asked how much of the offensive game plan was used with Hessler, Neuheisel responded:  “Maybe twenty percent.  Twenty percent of the offense that we practiced for the game we kept.”

That twenty percent proved to be enough.

The day started poorly for starting quarterback Koy Detmer. On a sack less than five minutes into the game, Detmer fumbled, with David Maxwell recovering the fumble for a 7-0 Texas A&M lead. Two series later, Detmer was marching the Buffs down the lead for a tying score, but was injured on a play which resulted in an 18-yard completion to James Kidd and a first-and-goal at the Aggie seven yard line.

Not risking anything, Hessler was given the assignment of handing off three times.  The net result was six yards in losses and a 30-yard field goal by Neil Voskeritchian.  Colorado still trailed, 7-3, and an opportunity appeared to have been lost along with the Buffs’ quarterback.

Fate shined, however, on Hessler and the Buffs just a few moments later.  On Texas A&M’s next possession, a Corey Pullig pass was misplayed by receiver Albert Connell.  Sophomore cornerback Elton Davis snatched the tipped ball, returning the interception 33 yards to the Aggie one yard line.  Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Hessler snuck it in for the Buffs’ first lead of the day, 10-7.  Later in the second, Hessler led the Buffs on a 90-yard drive, highlighted by a 58-yard bomb to receiver Rae Carruth.  After Hessler again did the honors, this time around end from three yards out, Colorado was on top, 17-7.

Texas A&M hadn’t been ranked third in the nation on a whim, however, and, sandwiched between a 46-yard field goal by Voskeritchian, put up two touchdowns to take a 21-20 lead over the Buffs midway through the third quarter.  It could have been worse.  After a Colorado fumble, A&M had the ball at the Buff 37-yard line.  Senior defensive lineman Kerry Hicks swung the momentum moments later when he blocked an A&M field goal attempt. The score remained 21-20, Aggies.

Re-enter the hero of the hour, John Hessler.

Two drives later, Hessler led the Buffs down the field to take the lead for good.  Capping a 61-yard drive, Hessler hit tight end Tennyson McCarty from 20 yards out for the go-ahead score.  The pass and catch were the first respective such touchdowns for both players.  McCarty’s touchdown gave Colorado a 26-21 lead, which remained unchanged after a two-point conversion failed.

The Buffs were on top, but celebration was premature.  Most of the fourth quarter still remained.

The rest of the contest was left to the defense, aided by a 40-yard field goal by Voskeritchian to give the Buffs an eight point cushion, 29-21.  The defense, highlighted by a knockout hit by freshman linebacker Hannibal Navies on Leeland McElroy (which kept McElroy out of the game for the next few plays), would not be bested, and Hessler was left to hold the ball on the game’s final drive.

Credit was given to the defense as it was due.  McElroy, who entered the game with an NCAA-leading 322 all-purpose yards per game average, was held to an un-Heisman like 169 yards on 23 rushes, three kickoff returns, and one pass reception.  The “Swarm Troopers”, as the Buff defense had been labeled, was up to the task.  “There was a lot of hype coming into this game,” said Colorado defensive end Greg Jones.  “We were tired of hearing about McElroy and especially about how good A&M’s defense was and the fact that we weren’t getting any credit ourselves.  We just wanted to show everyone we could play defense.”

Colorado was now 4-0.  The exciting win over the Aggies boosted Colorado to a No. 4 national ranking.  Unfortunately, there was no rest for the Buffs and their injured quarterback as the Big Eight Conference schedule opened.  Oklahoma, resurgent under first-year head coach Howard Schnellenberger, was 3-0 after dispatching San Diego State, SMU, and North Texas in three home games.  The pollsters placed OU at No. 10 nationally.

All eyes would be on the backup from Brighton, John Hessler.  Could he repeat his magical performance as the starter?

September 23, 2006 – at Georgia           No. 9 Georgia 14, Colorado 13

Freshman backup quarterback Joe Cox connected with tight end Martrez Milner on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining in the game, lifting the 9th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs to a 14-13 win over Colorado. Cox was inserted late in the third quarter in place of an ineffective Matthew Stafford, leading Georgia to two fourth quarter touchdowns before a crowd of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium in Athens.

After Ralphie led the Buffs onto the field to start the game, the underdog Buffs continued the stampede. Two long first quarter drives, though, netted only a 3-0 lead. Colorado’s first drive came up empty after Mason Crosby’s 26-field goal attempt was blocked. After holding the Bulldogs on their first drive, the Buffs quickly moved downfield again. An apparent touchdown was called back, however, when the Buffs were called for a false start penalty. Colorado did put points on the board, though, when Crosby hit from 26 yards out to give the Buffs a 3-0 lead.

Colorado stretched the lead to 10-0 on a one yard sneak by quarterback Bernard Jackson early in the second quarter, culminating a 63- yard drive. Georgia’s only scoring threat of the first half came up empty when a 53-yard field goal attempt by kicker Brandon Coutu was wide right.

The second half began well for the Buffs, when sophomore defensive tackle George Hypolite sacked Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, causing a fumble George Hypolite recovered. Four plays later, the Buffs were up 13-0 on a 36-yard Crosby field goal.

Colorado continued to move the ball in the second half, but did not score again. Late in the third quarter, Cox replaced Stafford at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Cox helped the Bulldogs avoid their first shutout since 1995 in leading the comeback. Georgia’s first score came with 9:11 remaining, when Cox connected with fullback Brannan Southerland on a 23-yard screen pass for a score.

Twice in the fourth quarter, Georgia drove inside the Buffs’ ten yard line, only to turn the ball over on downs. Then, with less than two minutes remaining, Georgia took over at the Colorado 43-yard line, setting the stage for Cox’s winning throw to Milner in the back of the Colorado end zone.

“It was a heck of a bullet we dodged,” said Milner, and the statistics backed Milner’s assessment. Colorado led Georgia in rushing yards, total offense, and time of possession. The Buffs posted 159 yards of total offense in the first quarter alone, but could only post three points.

At the end of the warm afternoon in Athens, Georgia was 4-0, Colorado was 0-4.

“This loss tears your guts out,” said Dan Hawkins after the game. “We did not come here to just show up, we came here to play. We came here to win.”

The question now was where the Buffs would go from here. Colorado was 0-4 for the first time since 2000, and on an eight game losing streak for the first time since the 1963-64 Buffs lost ten games in a row. Mired in the longest losing streak in 42 years may have been reason for despair, but the Buffs and their coach remained upbeat. “We’ve got to move on to our Big 12 schedule,” said running back Hugh Charles, who rushed for 72 yards on 18 carries against the Bulldogs, but also had a costly fourth quarter fumble. “We still have a lot of goals to accomplish, and we can take a lot from this game.” Echoed Dan Hawkins, “We are never down. We are fighters and not quitters.”

If Colorado was to start fresh in conference play, their next opponent would give the Buffs and their fans a good opportunity to see if the progress over the past few weeks would continue. The Buffs would open Big 12 play on the road, against Missouri. The Tigers were the last team the Buffs defeated in 2005 (by a 41-12 margin), but had won six of seven games since the two squared off in Boulder, including a 4-0 mark in 2006. With a 31-6 win over Ohio the same afternoon the Buffs were in Athens, the Tigers moved into the Top 25 for the first time since 2004.

If the Buffs were to make a statement that the effort against Georgia was a sign of things to come, and not an apparition, the Missouri game would be a great opportunity. A win would give Colorado something to play for – a fourth Big 12 North title in five years.

A loss would erase the sense of optimism generated against the highly rated Georgia Bulldogs.

The Quiet Bus Ride Back to Atlanta … 

Georgia had been on my mind for several months before Ralphie led the Colorado players onto the field at Sanford Stadium in Athens. My longtime best friend, Brad, had suggested the road trip to the Georgia game in the spring of 2006. I was willing to go, but my Bozeman travel buddy, Randy, had long before expressed a desire to make the pilgrimage to Lincoln in 2006 for the Nebraska game.

Unable to convince either of my friends of the merits of the other’s wishes, I took the only reasonable step.

I agreed to make both trips.

Brad and I traveled to the Georgia game as part of a group package put together by Boulder Travel. I flew down from Bozeman to Denver, where I met up with Brad and a plane load of Colorado fans. My initial reaction to the sight of so many Buff fans was that of surprise. I found it hard to believe that there were this many fellow sufferers willing to run the Bulldog gauntlet. I had to remind myself that most of these fans were in the same predicament as Brad and I – we hadn’t dreamed we would be flying 1,500 miles to support an 0-3 Buff team against a 3-0 (and 9th ranked) opponent.

The die had been cast.

My goals for the weekend were modest. Brad and I set out to have as much fun as we could, soaking up an SEC venue for the first time. My goal for the team was even more straight forward – score. Colorado was averaging all of 7.7 points per game, and Georgia had shut out its last two opponents. Putting just a few points on the board seemed like a worthy pursuit, regardless of the final score.

The first goal – having fun – was easily met. It was of some comfort that we traveled with a group, and it turned out that the Buff fans were great. On the trip out, I met a couple from Arvada who had been Colorado season ticket holders for over 40 years (40 years!). I learned that several of their 26 grandchildren (and two great-grandchildren) would be meeting them for the weekend. The Boulder Travel staff was enthusiastic and helpful (the bus drivers, both to and from the airport and to and from the game, were a pain, but that’s another story).

The best part of the trip, though, was the pre-game and game interaction with the local fans. In Athens, Georgia, southern hospitality is not just a catch-phrase. Brad and I wanted to take in the SEC tailgaiting experience, so after a brief stop at the CU Alumni Association breakfast (the game kicked off at 12:30), we were on our way.

We were not disappointed.

We didn’t wander far before we realized we were nowhere near Boulder, Colorado, either in color or scale. Of course, with a stadium which held 93,000, we expected to encounter more tailgaters than we would at a Colorado home game, but we were astonished at the quantity and quality of the party. Red, naturally, was everywhere, and the dollars and creativity devoted to the venture demonstrated that tailgating in the SEC was serious business. The Georgia Bulldog logo was emblazoned everywhere – on tents, flags, grills, coolers and vehicles – not to mention the shirts, hats, and other adornments worn by the locals.

Brad and I made friends quickly. We were offered beer and food, and were greeted warmly by almost everyone. Yes, there were a few suspicious looks along the way, but when your opposition is a 27-point underdog, there was little need for posturing. Our journey through the old part of campus, past the law school and the library, was slow and relaxed.

The game itself brought about two new friends. Two Georgia gals sat down behind us. One was a Georgia graduate; the other an Auburn transplant who rooted for the Bulldogs except when they played her beloved Tigers. Both were in their mid-twenties, and were more than willing to share in the history and lore of Georgia football.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Colorado led for most of the game. This gave Brad and I the chance to be gracious as our Georgia friends suffered. In the last minute, though, after the Bulldogs pulled out the win, our hosts – to their credit – remained friendly. They acknowledged that we had been good company, so much so that they had long since forgotten their early plans to abandon their assigned seats in favor of more friendly environs. They readily accepted our invitation to show them an equally hospitable time if they came to Boulder for the Colorado/Georgia rematch in 2010.

The southern hospitality continued after the game. Yes, the home team had won, making it easier for the red-clad fans streaming out of Sanford Stadium to utter the perfunctory “good game”, “good playing”, and “hang in there”. Still, I truly believe that had Colorado won the game, we would have received much of the same treatment.

The most disappointing part of the afternoon came on the two hour bus ride back to our hotel (don’t get me started on the bus drivers!). The Colorado contingent at the game, some 3,100 in all, had been loud and proud throughout the game. For just a few precious moments during the game, I had allowed myself to dream of what the upset win would feel like – singing the school fight song multiple times on the bus and plane, hanging out in the hotel bar with fellow revelers, cheering with every ESPN replay of the highlights, proudly displaying my Buff Club visor back in Bozeman (the freebie we received with “CU v. Georgia, 9/23/06” stitched on the side).

Instead, the bus ride was very quiet. These fans – Buff fanatics just like me – understood how close the Buffs had come to an historic win. Exhausted from the 86 degree heat (coupled with humidity foreign to most of us), drained from the stress and strain of the three hour battle, the Buff faithful silently took their seats, each of us staring out the window at the slow moving traffic, contemplating what might have been.

Later that night, Brad and I were walking back to the hotel from Corky’s, a local rib joint, where we had feasted on all-you-can eat ribs. It was dark, but still warm and muggy. “You know”, I said to Brad as we walked across the grass in front of the Marriott, “I guess we had about as much fun here as we can have with a one-point loss.”

Brad turned and smiled. “Yea,” he said, patting me on the back. “You got that right”.

September 23, 2017           No. 7 Washington 37, Colorado 10

Colorado looked to avenge a 41-10 loss to Washington in the 2016 Pac-12 championship game. Instead, it was a repeat, with the Buffs falling 37-10.

The previous December, the Buffs were down only 14-10 at halftime against the Huskies, but turnovers doomed the Buffs in the second half. In the 2017 Pac-12 conference opener, the Buffs were down only 10-7 at halftime, but turnovers doomed the Buffs in the second half. A pick six thrown by CU quarterback Steven Montez late in the third quarter turned a 17-10 game into a rout.

For the game, Montez completed 21-of-27 passes for 171 yards, but also had three interceptions. His counterpart for the Huskies, Jake Browning, was not much more effective, completing 11-of-21 for 160 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The difference on the stats sheet came on the ground. Myles Gaskin went for 202 yards on 27 carries, including a 57-yard score to add insult to injury late. CU’s leading rusher, Phillip Lindsay, had 68 yards on 19 carries, posting the Buffs’ lone score.

“This is the best team in the North (division) that we’ll play and they’re a really good football team that’s really well coached”, said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre. “They beat us tonight. We’ve got some things to work on and improve on just like every game. When something happens, they make you pay for it. That’s what good teams do. We do that too. We’ll do that a couple times this year too.”

Continue reading game story here

I’m Keeping My Towel … 

In preparing for CU’s rematch with Washington, I made myself go back and take a look at the 2016 Pac-12 championship game.

The perception we have been left with for nine months was that the Buffs were humiliated, with the 41-10 final reflecting the Huskies’ domination.

The reality is that the score was 14-7 at halftime, but a pick six in the third quarter helped turned the game into a rout.

The perception of Washington’s 37-10 victory over Colorado to open 2017 Pac-12 conference play will be that the Huskies proved themselves to be College Football Playoff contenders, while exposing the Buffs as a mediocre team which had a fluke of a good season in 2016 (one which will not be repeated in 2017).

The reality is that the score was 17-10 late in the third quarter, but a pick six helped to turn the game into a rout.

Continue reading game essay here

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