Top Three Game Nine’s

Plati-‘Tudes Short No. 9 … The ninth installment of CU’s best or most exciting football games in its history as to when they occurred in week nine of any season.  We’re running these over the second half of the spring — many are obvious, a few obscure, and no doubt some up for debate.  So here are the best “game nine” games in our history in my humble opinion:

GAME 9’s

#1—1989: Colorado 27, Nebraska 21 in Boulder.
Likely if not easily the most anticipated game at Folsom Field since No. 2 Oklahoma visited in 1972.  CU came in at No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, Nebraska at No. 3 (reversed in the UPI/Coaches ballot), with the battle between 8-0 teams set to be televised by CBS.  Nebraska picked off a CU pass on the fourth play of the game, and in what would become nothing short of amazing, scored on its first offensive play of the game the first of four times over the next 11 games in the series, this time on a 51-yard screen pass.  After trading punts, CU took over on its own 30, setting up one of the greatest plays in program history: Darian Hagan took the snap and ran the option over the left side … with J.J. Flannigan within his eyesight, trailing the play by a couple of yards as the two raced down the west side of Folsom.  At the Nebraska 40, Hagan flipped the ball to Flannigan who took it the rest of the way to tie the game at 7; CU never trailed again.  After the defense held Nebraska to a three-and-out, Jeff Campbell fielded the punt at the CU 47, cut right and scampered 47 yards to the NU 4; three plays later, Hagan scored on a 1-yard run and just like that it was 14-7.  The Huskers tied the game two drives later, and then CU took the lead for good right before halftime on a 49-yard field goal by Ken Culbertson.  Early in the third quarter, Campbell was at it again, returning a punt 55 yards to the NU 19; Flannigan then popped it in from 2 yards out six plays later and CU had a 10-point edge at 24-14.  NU sliced it back to three (24-21) late in the third, and Culbertson closed the scoring with a 28-yard three with 8:47 to play. CU withstood a pair of Nebraska fourth quarter threats including a desperation pass on the game’s final play as the win gave CU sole possession of the Big Eight lead in November for the first time since 1961.

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From the CU at the Game Archives

November 4th – Boulder         No. 2 Colorado 27, No. 3 Nebraska 21

Jim Nantz, the play-by-play announcer for CBS, introduced the Colorado/Nebraska game to the nation as follows: “Quite simply, there has never been a bigger game in Colorado’s 100-year history than this game today.”

After falling behind early, the Colorado Buffaloes played like champions, prevailing over Nebraska, 27-21, taking control of the Big Eight race to the Orange Bowl, and taking dead aim at a national championship.

The game began ominously for the Buffs.  In each of Colorado’s five previous games at Folsom Field in 1989, the Buffs had scored on the first drive of the game.  In the opening series against the Cornhuskers, though, quarterback Darian Hagan threw an interception, only his fourth of the season.  Nebraska took over at the its own 49-yard line, and quickly took the lead.  On the Cornhuskers’ first play from scrimmage, quarterback Gerry Gdowski, taking advantage of the over pursuit of a pumped-up Colorado defense, threw a screen pass to Bryan Carpenter, who raced 51 yards for a score.

7-0, Nebraska, just 1:30 into the contest.

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Hagan-to-Flannigan pitch to tie the game … 

The last few minutes of the game … 


Runner-Up —1923: Colorado 6, Colorado A&M 3 at Fort Collins.
The then-Silver & Gold entered the final game of the season with an 8-0 record and were gunning for its first nine-win season in the 34-year history of the program.  Both teams entered undefeated in league play, CU at 7-0 and Colorado A&M at 5-0-1.  Yearbook accounts billed it as one of the greatest crowds in state football history at Colorado Field in Fort Collins that gathered that Thanksgiving Day (estimated at around 7,000).  The Aggies had two weeks off to prepare for CU (they played one less game that year) while Colorado came in with five key players nursing major injuries.  Neither team was able to score a touchdown, so it came down to field goals.  Art Quinlan gave the Silver & Gold a 3-0 lead in the first quarter with a 28-yard field goal, but A&M tied it in the second on a 20-yard drop kick by Jack Houser.  Both would go on to miss three kicks in the second half, and the game look destined for a 3-3 tie.  With two minutes left, CU forced A&M to punt  that Quinlan fielded at the 12 and returned it 63 yards to the Aggie 25.  Quinlan and Fred Hartshorn worked the ball to the A&M 3, where Quinlan dropped back to kick, but it was blocked; the rules of the day allowed the following to happen: Quinlan recovered the blocked ball, tried to score, was rebuffed, then dropped back and kicked again, this time it good from roughly 12 yards out with 45 seconds left.  The win gave Colorado its first Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title in 10 years and a perfect 9-0 record for the season.

Honorable Mention—1951: Colorado 36, Nebraska 14 at Lincoln.
The first televised game in program history, with Bill Stern and Ray Michael behind the microphones for the independent broadcast, but not shown locally—KWGN-TV debuted the following year as the state’s first TV station, first-known as KFEL-TV (Stern at one time was a household name and was an inaugural member of the Sportscasters Hall of Fame).  The game has some importance, a CU win would guarantee its best finish since joining the Big Seven (second) and a 7-win season for the first time since 1942; Nebraska was 2-6, one win a 1-0 verdict over Kansas State (yes, 1-0, the forfeit score back then).  After spotting the Cornhuskers a 7-0 lead, CU reeled off the next 29 points on touchdown runs by Carroll Hardy and Roger Williams that sandwiched two Zack Jordan TD passes to Chuck Mosher and Hugh Davidson.  Hardy added a second TD run with 9:45 left in the game to close the scoring, as CU outgained NU, 418-225, including 308-125 on the ground.  Hardy carried 11 times for 107 yards and Merwin Hodel 21 times for 103, marking the first (known) game in program history where two players gained 100 or more yards rushing.  Jordan completed 6-of-8 passes for 110 yards and the two scores, which if existed then, would have been a school record single-game passer rating of 273.0.

To Which I Would Add the Following … 

October 27, 1990 – Boulder           No. 10 Colorado 32, No. 22 Oklahoma 23

Like the Buffs, the Oklahoma entered the 1990 campaign with high hopes.

Five weeks into the season, the Sooners seemed to be well on their way to realizing their dreams. Oklahoma took a 5-0 record and a No. 4 national ranking to play Texas in Dallas, only to be turned away by the unranked Longhorns, 14-13. The loss was hard to take, but not nearly as debilitating as the loss the next week to Iowa State, 33-31. The upset by the Cyclones left the Sooners looking for answers as they headed to Boulder. Now ranked 22nd in the nation, Oklahoma was riding a two game regular season losing streak for the first time in almost a decade. Colorado already had a loss and a tie, but was undefeated in Big Eight play.

With Nebraska still undefeated, the Sooners and the Buffs knew that the loser of their game was likely out of the race for the Big Eight championship.

In a game filled with anxious moments and big plays, the Colorado Buffaloes finally prevailed over the Oklahoma Sooners, 32-23. Each team posted scores in all four quarters as neither team could take control. In fact, the game turned on a controversial call by Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs early in the fourth quarter which turned the momentum finally in the Buffs’ favor.

The game started poorly in the eyes of most of the sellout crowd of 51,967. Oklahoma scored on its opening drive of the game, going 80 yards on 16 plays to take a 7-0 lead, with the six minute drive capped by a five-yard run by quarterback Cale Gundy. The Buffs responded with two Jim Harper field goals to cut the lead to 7-6 midway through the second.

Oklahoma quickly expanded the edge to 14-6, though, scoring on an 80-yard pass from Mike Gundy to Ted Long on the Sooners’ next play from scrimmage. The Buffs appeared to be reeling, as on Oklahoma’s next possession, the Sooners drove deep into Colorado territory. The Buffs’ defense stiffened, though, and Oklahoma was denied a 17-6 lead when a 37-yard field goal attempt by Oklahoma kicker R.D. Lasher was blocked by Colorado free safety Greg Thomas. “That was a big play,” coach Bill McCartney would say after the game. “It shifted things around.”

The Buffs managed to score just before half for the fifth consecutive game, with Darian Hagan connecting with Mike Pritchard from 12 yards out. The two-point conversion attempt failed, however, and Oklahoma took a 14-12 halftime edge into the lockerrooms.

Eric Bieniemy, who had 188 yards on 28 carries on the day, gave Colorado its first lead of the game, 18-14, early in the third quarter on a 69-yard run. The score was 18-17, Colorado, when the game turned on just a handful of plays.

Continue reading story here … including my essay for the game, “The Return of Great Expectations” …

November 9, 1991 – at Oklahoma State           No. 14 Colorado 16, Oklahoma State 12

The Oklahoma State Cowboys entered their 1991 game against Colorado with an 0-7-1 overall record, having managed only a 6-6 tie against equally hapless Iowa State.  There was little for the Cowboys to play for in November other than pride.

The Colorado Buffaloes, meanwhile, still had the chance at a third straight Big Eight title.

It would be fair to expect, then, for the Buffs to roll to a blowout win over the Cowboys.

Not so.

Senior wide receiver Robbie James made a name for himself with only six seconds remaining against Oklahoma State.  With Colorado trailing 12-10, James connected with tight end Christian Fauria on a 20-yard pass off of a fake field goal attempt to give the Buffs a 16-12 victory.  The unlikely outcome, while not pretty, kept the hopes of an Orange Bowl birth alive for Colorado.

The game featured ten turnovers, including six by Colorado.  After battling to a 3-3 halftime tie, the Buffs took the lead for the first time with 5:06 left in the third quarter when Darian Hagan passed to senior tight end Rico Smith for a ten-yard score.  Early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys tied the score on a touchdown pass from quarterback Kenny Ford to Robert Kirksey.

Then things really got interesting.

On Colorado’s next drive, cornerback Mike Clark blocked a Mitch Berger punt out of the endzone.  Just like that, in less than two minutes of play, the 14th-ranked Buffs had gone from a 10-7 lead to a 12-10 deficit.

The Buffs had several opportunities to score during the fourth quarter, but failed to get close enough for a field goal attempt. After Mitch Berger pinned the Cowboys at their own ten-yard line late in the game, the Colorado defense forced a three-and-out, with Colorado taking over at the Oklahoma State 43-yard line with 1:49 to play.

In the ensuing ten-play, 30-yard drive, the 25,000 Cowboy faithful in attendance witnessed great football drama.  Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan left the game with a sprained ankle on the drive’s third play.  With the game – and the Buffs’ New Year’s Day hopes – on the line, substitute Vance Joseph connected with James Hill for a 17-yard gain on fourth-and-14.  Later, on third-and-ten, Joseph picked up ten yards and a first down on a quarterback draw.

Positioned for a game-winning field goal with six seconds remaining, Oklahoma State twice called time out to ice field goal kicker Jim Harper.  Rather than setting the ball down for Harper, holder Robbie James spun away from the kicker, finding a wide open Fauria at the OSU ten-yard line.  Fauria scored the winning points just a time expired, giving the Buffs a hard-fought 16-12 win.

Here is the YouTube video highlights of the game … 

November 3, 2016 – Boulder           No. 21 Colorado 20, UCLA 10

Isaiah Oliver returned a punt 68 yards for a score with 5:27 remaining and No. 21 Colorado overcame eight personal-foul penalties to beat UCLA 20-10 on Thursday night.

Oliver caught the punt on the right side of the field, cut back to the left and went untouched for the decisive score. It was the first punt return for a touchdown in 11 years for Colorado, giving the Buffs a guaranteed winning season since 2005 … the last time the Buffs had a punt return for a touchdown (Stephone Robinson v. Kansas).

The game featured a combined 25 penalties for 224 yards, two blocked kicks and five turnovers.

Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau went a school-record 152 attempts without throwing an interception before throwing two in a span of six passes. The Buffs had four turnovers in the first half, but was only behind 10-7 at the break due to the play of the defense.

The Buff defenders, who have yet to give up a touchdown drive of over 40 yards in four games at Folsom Field, held the Bruins to 25 rushing yards (on 30 carries, or 0.8 yards per attempt) and 210 total yards. The Colorado offense, though, allowed UCLA to stay in the game, with only 304 total yards to go with the four turnovers.

“The good thing that shows you about our team is we found a way to win,” Mike MacIntyre said. “We found a way to win and you’re going to have a game like that every once in a while, but not with the selfish penalties that we had and we’ll fix that.”

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From my Essay from the Game,Even Ugly Wins Count” …

The statistics tell the story:

— Four turnovers;

— A total of 12 penalties – including four personal fouls and four calls for unsportsmanlike conduct – for a total of 128 yards;

— Four trips to the red zone by the offense, with only one touchdown to show for the effort.

In year’s past … Hell, last year … this would have been the post-mortem of yet another close loss. The Buffs, at times in the very recent past, played well enough to win Pac-12 games, but turnovers, missed opportunities, and self-inflicted wounds kept the team from posting “W’s”.

Against UCLA, however, the team found a way to win, coming away with a 20-10 victory before a Thursday night Blackout crowd of 43,761.

The Buffs did, in large part, thanks to a defense which is setting new records every weekend. The UCLA offense, coming off of a 45-point effort against Utah, was stymied the entire evening. The Bruins were held to 210 yards of total offense, with a total of 25 yards in 30 carries … an absurd 0.8 yards per carry average. UCLA was held to 14 first downs in the game – with four of those coming by way of penalty.

How good is the Colorado defense? The Bruins became the fourth opponent to post less than 250 yards of total offense against the Buffs in the first nine games of the 2016 season. The last time Colorado had a defense to hold four opponents under 250 yards in an entire year? Back in 1998. The Buffs have allowed just 58 points in the last five games. The last time the Colorado defense had such a dominant stretch? Try 1991.

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Here are YouTube highlights from the game … 


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