The 2002 Season – Buffs defend their Big 12 North title with style

As college football remains in limbo, we’ll continue to take a look back at some of the best seasons in the CU at the Game Archives.

Previously posted

Here is a look back at the 2002 Season. The defending Big 12 champions defended their North Division title, but it wasn’t easy. There was the big win over UCLA (in 99-degree heat), Jeremy Bloom’s 94-yard score v. Kansas State (not to mention Donald Strickland’s big hit on fourth-and-goal). What about Chris Brown’s 309-yard effort v. Kansas, or CU’s big win over Nebraska in Lincoln (and all of the Cornhusker records which fell that day)? … An interesting season, to say the least …

The 2002 Season … 

Preseason – 2002

The 2001 season had been a roller coaster ride for Colorado. Rising from the depths of a season-opening loss to Fresno State, the Buffs ran off five straight wins. Appearing to have their ship corrected, the Buffs stumbled badly in Austin against Texas. Left for dead, the Buffs again ran off five straight wins, including victories for the history and memory books over Nebraska and Texas. Finally, with an outside chance at a most unusual national championship, Colorado fell flat in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon.

What, then, to make of the defending Big 12 champions?

Would they again rise to the occasion, becoming the first-ever repeat champions of the Big 12? Or would the burden of higher expectations be too much to overcome? The personnel would be there, but what of the senior leadership which, after a heart-breaking season-ending loss to Nebraska in 2000, had led the Buffs from a 3-8 record to a 10-3 championship season?

On offense, the question marks were in the offensive line and at wide receiver. Gone to the NFL were All-Americans Andre Gurode and Victor Rogers from the line, along with all-world tight end Daniel Graham. The line did return three starters: senior center Wayne Lucier; senior tackle Justin Bates, and junior guard Marwan Hage. Quinn Sypniewski and Beau Williams would attempt to fill Graham’s shoes at tight end.

The receivers had only junior Derek McCoy returning as a proven starter. Junior John Donahue looked to be the starter on the other side, with transfer D.J. Hackett and several freshman vying for playing time. Donohoe was optimistic, stating, “I think the coaches are confident in me; I just want to make the big plays more often.”

The offensive backfield was an embarrassment of talent.

Junior quarterback Craig Ochs, returning from what for him was a disappointing 2001 season, was ready to take his game “to the next level”, according to coaches. Due to injuries, Ochs had missed most of Colorado’s run to the Big 12 title, and was anxious to prove his leadership. Behind him was possibly the best backfield in the nation. Juniors Chris Brown and Bobby Purify would share time with sophomore Marcus Houston. Both Brown and Purify had surpassed 900 yards in 2001, and everyone was anxious to see what an injury-free season for Marcus Houston would produce. Setting the stage for the trio was senior fullback Brandon Drumm, looking to receive All-American recognition for his blocking skills. As Chris Brown put it: “You just follow (number) 33 and he’ll lead the way. Drumm’s pretty much punishing somebody, somewhere.”

The defensive line finished the spring as a work in progress.

Senior Tyler Brayton was moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, and was seeming to flourish in his new roll. Three juniors, Gabe Nyenhuis, Marques Harris, and DeAndre Fluellen looked to fill the remaining three spots in the line. The changes in the line prompted defensive line coach Chris Wilson to declare, “I don’t talk about D-tackle or D-end anymore. I’ve just got D-linemen.”

The bright spot for the Buffs on defense was at linebacker, where several candidates for conference and national honors would suit up. Senior Drew Wahlroos moved from the outside to the inside, while senior Joey Johnson made the reverse position change. Johnson would battle senior Kory Mossini for playing time in the fall. The other linebacker position would be manned by junior Sean Tufts, who had a breakout season in 2001.

The secondary, once again, would be a question mark for the Buffs. Seniors Donald Strickland and Rod Sneed returned, along with juniors Medford Moorer and Phil Jackson. But this group had allowed a number of big plays in 2001, and had lost senior safety Michael Lewis to the NFL.

The kicking game was set, with senior Mark Mariscal returning at punter, and senior Pat Brougham moving from kickoffs to place kicker. The spring concluded without a named kick returner to replace Roman Hollowell, but a number of candidates were available.

Game One … 

August 31st – Denver           Colorado State 19, No. 7 Colorado 14

75,531 sun-baked fans witnessed the Colorado Buffaloes succumb to the Colorado State Rams for the third time in four years, 19-14. Ram quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt scored on a 23-yard run with 6:20 remaining to give CSU the win after the Buffs had erased a 13-0 halftime deficit to take a 14-13 lead.

The Buffs could not overcome their own mistakes, including four turnovers. CSU built a 13-0 halftime edge behind the efforts of running back Cecil Sapp, who scored twice on his way to rushing for 80 yards on 22 carries. The Ram lead could have been greater if not for the miscues of kicker Jeff Babcock, who missed on two field goals and an extra point attempt.

After being held to just 90 yards of total offense in the first half, the Buffs rallied, but running back Chris Brown fumbled twice deep in Colorado State territory in the third quarter. “We never really gave ourselves a chance to get going because we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” lamented Colorado head coach Gary Barnett, “But part of that was due to CSU. They played well.”

The Buffs finally got on the scoreboard on the first play of the fourth quarter. For the second year in a row, Colorado’s first touchdown of the season came on a punt return. In 2001, Roman Hollowell returned a punt 77 yards to pull the Buffs out of a 14-0 hole against Fresno State. In 2002, freshman Jeremy Bloom scored on a 75 yard punt return to cut the CU deficit to 13-7.

On the Buffs’ next drive, the CU offense put together an eight-play, 81-yard drive, with Chris Brown going over from the one yard line to give Colorado a 14-13 lead with 9:39 to play. Then the Buffs’ defense, which had held the Ram offense at bay for most of the afternoon, suddenly wilted. CSU was able to take the ensuing kickoff and march 84 yards in just seven plays to re-claim the lead. Bradlee Van Pelt scored the winning points on a 23-yard run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Rams had a 19-14 lead with 6:20 to play.

The Buffs had plenty of time to salvage an opening day win. Converting two fourth down conversions, Colorado had the ball on the CSU 12-yard line with less than a minute to play. Ochs attempt to connect with John Donahue on fourth down fell incomplete, though, and the Buffs were 0-1 for the fourth consecutive year.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “A Repeat, but of which year?” here

Game Two …

September 7th – Boulder          No. 17 Colorado 34, San Diego State 14

The Buffs survived the loss of quarterback Craig Ochs to injury to win their home-opener against San Diego State, 34-14.

Ochs suffered a concussion late in the second quarter and did not return. Senior quarterback Robert Hodge teamed with a “bend-but-don’t-break” Colorado defense in the second half to help the Buffs pull away from the Aztecs.

Both teams scored on their opening drives of the game.

Ochs hit tight end Beau Williams for a 22-yard score to put the Buffs up, 7-0. San Diego State responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive, culminated by a 4-yard scoring run by running back Garric Simmons.

The first quarter theatrics were not over just yet, however. On the Buffs’ next drive, on third-and-five from the CU 25-yard line, Craig Ochs hit wide receiver Derek McCoy around midfield. McCoy did the rest, turning the play into a 75-yard touchdown.

After SDSU had knotted the score at 14, the game turned on a special teams play. Freshman running back Michael Franklin, who had posted the Aztecs second score, touched a punt close to his endzone. Mistakenly believing that he had to come out with the ball, Franklin attempted a return, only to fumble the ball. Freshman Colorado linebacker Akarika Dawn picked up the gift and returned it eight yards for a 21-14 lead.

Just before halftime, quarterback Craig Ochs scrambled, and on his way toward the Buff sideline, was laid out by a jarring hit. Kept out of action for the second half, Ochs was taken to the hospital for precautionary tests while senior Robert Hodge took the field. Hodge was effective, if not efficient, in guiding the Buffs to two second half scores. Chris Brown scored twice in the second half on his way to 185 yards rushing. Brown’s second score, from 38 yards out, came in final minute of play to give CU a 34-14 win.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “Meeting Marwan Hage”, here … 

Game Three … 

September 14th – Boulder          No. 17 USC 40, No. 18 Colorado 3

Robert Hodge became the only the second Colorado quarterback since 1959 to make his starting debut as a senior, as he led the Buffs onto the field to face the Trojans of USC. In 1976, senior Jeff Austin made his debut against Texas Tech, only to lose, 24-7. Hodge fared no better, as the Buffs were completely dominated by USC, 40-3.

The numbers are numbing:

Worst loss since 1992 (52-7 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln);

Worst loss at home since 1983 (59-20 loss to Missouri);

First game without a touchdown since 1997 (27-3 loss to Michigan);

Fewest points at home since 1986 (28-0 loss to Oklahoma).

On the afternoon, the Buffs managed only four first downs and 61 yards of total offense. Robert Hodge connected on only one of his nine passes, with his one completion going for 20 yards. Hodge threw one interception, ran the ball eight times for a minus-10 yards, and fumbled once. Zac Colvin came in for Hodge when the game was out of hand, but could only go 1-for-4 passing (for four yards), with a minus-13 yards rushing and a fumble to his credit.

Still, the game result was not all the quarterbacks’ doing.

The Buff rushing “attack” netted only 37 yards. The Colorado defense, meanwhile, allowed 425 yards of total offense, including three 80-yard touchdown drives. USC quarterback Carson Palmer was effective if not spectacular, completing 22-of-30 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. Tailback Sultan McCulloch carried 15 times for 110 yards, including a 62-yard second quarter score which gave the Trojans a 20-0 halftime lead.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “Awful … Just Awful” here

Game Four … 

September 21st – at UCLA           Colorado 31, No. 20 UCLA 17

Chris Brown went for 188 yards on 26 carries, scoring three touchdowns as Colorado defeated UCLA in Pasadena, 31-17.

Bouncing back after a humiliating defeat at the hands of USC, the Buffs took out their frustrations on the Trojans’ cross-town rivals, posting 471 yards of total offense.

“This is us,” said Chris Brown, who scored on runs of 19, 7, and eight yards. Indeed, a team that had been held to just four first downs a week earlier put up 27 first downs against UCLA, compiling 325 yards on the ground. Quarterback Robert Hodge, making his second start in place of Craig Ochs, was not spectacular but did not hurt the Buffs, connecting on 11-of-22 passes for 117 yards and no turnovers.

It took some time to wear down the Bruins, though. In the first quarter, the Buffs had only 27 yards of total offense. On the first play of the second quarter, UCLA scored on a trick play to take a 7-0 lead. Rather than succumb, the Buffs bounced right back, taking only four plays to score, with Brown doing the honors from 19 yards out. A Pat Brougham 29-yard field just before halftime gave the Buffs a 10-7 edge at the break.

In the second half, the Buffs’ offensive line dominated, and the Buffs slowly built a lead. Another Brougham field goal and another Brown touchdown run (capped by a Hodge-to-McCoy two-point conversion) gave Colorado a 21-7 lead. Brougham and Brown would put up two more scores in the fourth quarter to give Colorado an insurmountable 31-10 edge with nine minutes to go in the game.

“We got insulted last week,” said Gary Barnett, “both on and off the field. Our guys challenged each other. That was the Colorado Buffalo team I’m used to seeing and being around.” For Barnett, it was his first win over a Pac-10 opponent in six tries, and the first Buff win over UCLA ever.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “Not So Solid Ochs”

Game Five … 

October 5th – Boulder           Colorado 35,  No. 13 Kansas State 31

Showing a big-play ability largely muted in non-conference games, the Colorado offense hit its stride in leading the Buffs to a 35-31 win over No. 13 Kansas State. The Buffs scored on plays of 71, 85, and 94 yards in rolling to 483 yards of total offense against the nation’s fifth-ranked defense.

Quarterback Robert Hodge connected on 13-of-20 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns in making a successful return to Folsom Field. After enduring a devastating debut against USC (1-of-9, 20 yards, one interception), Hodge connected on a 71-yard scoring pass to Brian Calhoun, a record-setting 94-yarder to Jeremy Bloom, and a one-yard toss to Jesse Wallace.

“He keeps getting better, and I’ve told a lot of people about what a great deep ball he throws, and he proved that today,” said Gary Barnett after the game. “He’s getting more and more confident, and played really well.”

The CU offense sparkled early. On the Buffs’ first drive of the game, Hodge hit Derek McCoy in stride for 41 yards, with Chris Brown scoring on a one-yard run to give the Buffs a 7-0 lead. On Colorado’s next series, Hodge connected with freshman Calhoun for 71 yards and a 14-0 advantage. It appeared that the Buffs were on their way to a rout of the undefeated Wildcats.

Continue reading story from the game, including my essay for the game, “Hodge Ball”, here

Some YouTube videos from the game … Here Jeremy Bloom sets a (then) school record with a 94-yard touchdown reception, along with Dennis Strickland’s big hit on fourth-and-goal … 

… and Chris Brown out-racing Terrance Newman to the end zone …

Game Six … 

October 12th – at Kansas           Colorado 53, Kansas 29

Chris Brown rushed for a career-high 309 yards and scored two touchdowns in leading Colorado to a 53-29 win over Kansas in Lawrence.

In becoming only the third player in school history to post a 300-yard rushing game, Brown carried the ball 25 times for a healthy 12.4 yards per carry. Quarterback Robert Hodge continued his steady play as well, hitting on 12-of-19 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns.

Only the Buffs’ porous defense kept the game from becoming a total rout.

For the second consecutive week, the Buffs raced out to an early 14-0 lead. Hodge hit receiver D.J. Hackett with an eight-yard scoring pass on the Buffs’ opening drive. On the Buffs’ second possession, Brown broke free on a second-and-six play from the Colorado 22-yard line for a 78-yard touchdown. The rout was on against the 112th-ranked defense (out of 117 teams).

For the second consecutive week, however, the Buffs had an early 14-0 lead erased. After Jeremy Bloom muffed a punt, pinning the Buffs deep in their own end, Brown was tackled in the endzone for a safety. 14-2, Colorado.

By the first play of the second quarter, the score was 15-14, Kansas, as the Jayhawks put together two scoring drives to take the lead (a two-point conversion after the second score failed).

Kansas would hold the lead for only 45 seconds, however, with Brown scoring on a 51-yard run to put the Buffs ahead to stay, 21-15. Hodge then hit Derek McCoy from 15 yards out for a 29-15 lead (Hodge to junior receiver John Donahoe for a two-point conversion). With the Jayhawks driving late in the second quarter, defensive back Donald Strickland seemed to put the game away with a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “Brown Sugar”, here

Game Seven … 

October 19th – Boulder           No. 23 Colorado 34, Baylor 0

For a third straight game, Colorado opened the game against a Big 12 conference rival with a quick 14-0 lead. Unlike the Kansas State and Kansas games of the previous two weeks, however, this time the Buffs did not let up, cruising to a 34-0 win over Baylor.

Chris Brown rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns as the Buffs raced out to a 34-0 halftime lead before letting backups play much of the scoreless second half.

Brown scored on the third play of the game on a 55-yard run. Shortly thereafter, Brandon Drumm capped an eight-play, 61-yard drive from a yard out, and the Buffs were up 14-0. Rather than allow a comeback (Kansas State had tied the Buffs 14-all two weeks earlier, and Kansas had briefly taken a 15-14 lead a week before), the Buffs poured in on against hapless Baylor.

Set up by an interception by Roderick Sneed, the Buffs scored on a four-yard Chris Brown run on the first play of the second quarter. The extra point attempt by Pat Brougham was missed, but the Buffs were up comfortably, 20-0.

Just over two minutes later, quarterback Robert Hodge scrambled in from 34 yards out for his first rushing touchdown of the year. Already up 27-0 in the second quarter, the Buffs were not done. After strong safety Clyde Surrell stripped the ball from Baylor quarterback Aaron Karas and Sneed recovered on the Baylor 48, Chris Brown scored his third touchdown to cap an eight-play, 52-yard drive and give Colorado an insurmountable 34-0 lead.

Brown’s 167 yards on the day, as impressive as they were, were becoming “routine”. The story of the Baylor game, for a change, was the defense, with the Buffs shutting out an opponent for the first time since a 37-0 victory over the same Baylor squad in 1999.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “The South Shall Rise Again” here

Game Eight … 

October 26th – Boulder           No. 21 Colorado 37, Texas Tech 13

Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury came to Boulder as the nation’s leader in pass completions, attempts, yards passing and touchdowns. Kingsbury left town with a sore arm, no touchdowns, and a loss, as the Colorado defense rose to the occasion in leading the Buffs to a convincing 37-13 win.

Kingsbury did get his yards, 268 in all, but on 36-of-65 passing and no touchdowns. The Red Raider quarterback had been intercepted only six times in 419 attempts in leading Texas Tech to a 5-3 record, but was picked off four times by the Buffs. “To state the obvious, that was a heck of a defensive effort,” stated Colorado head coach Gary Barnett. “All week everybody was talking about their offense and their quarterback, and our defense just sat back quietly and waited for the challenge.”

Texas Tech took a 3-0 lead on its first possession of the game, aided by two Colorado penalties. After a 46-yard kickoff return by Roderick Sneed, the Buffs responded with a 48-yard field goal by Pat Brougham to tie the score. Colorado took a 10-3 lead thanks to a 41-yard interception return to the Red Raider five yard line by linebacker Kory Mossini, setting up a three-yard scoring run by Chris Brown.

Tech tied the score on a two-yard run by Taurean Henderson late in the first quarter, and then took its second lead of the game, 13-10, early in the second quarter on a Robert Treece 42-yard field goal. A short punt gave CU good field position late in the half, with Robert Hodge hitting Derek McCoy from 14 yards out with 13 seconds remaining to give the Buffs a 16-13 halftime edge (Brougham missed the extra point).

While the first half was a back-and-forth battle, the second half was all Colorado.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “Tyler Brayton’s Line in the Sand” here

Game Nine … 

November 2nd – at Oklahoma           No. 2 Oklahoma 27, No. 13 Colorado 11

Despite allowing Chris Brown to become the first runner to post a 100-yard game against them since 1999, the Oklahoma defense made a strong showing in leading the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners to a 27-11 win over Colorado in Norman. The Sooners’ defense forced four Colorado turnovers in giving its offense a short field. Quarterback Nate Hybl threw three touchdown passes, with the touchdown drives covering just 39, 24, and nine yards.

“Our defense played very well,” lamented Gary Barnett. “Look at the position they were in time after time after time.”

In the first half, Colorado lost two fumbles, had a pass intercepted, muffed a pooch kickoff and had a field goal attempt blocked. The Colorado miscues allowed Oklahoma to build a 20-3 halftime lead, but it could have been much worse. The Sooners missed two field goal attempts themselves, and settled for field goals on two other possessions deep in Colorado territory. “You could see (our offense) out there choking,” wide receiver John Donahoe said. “When you start out like we did, there’s only one way to go. Our defense played great all game, and we just didn’t back them up.”

Any hope of a Colorado comeback ended on the Buffs’ first second half possession, when quarterback Robert Hodge was intercepted by linebacker Teddy Lehman. Lehman’s 31-yard return set up the Sooners deep in Buff territory – again – and after Hybl connected with Mark Clayton from 12 yards out, the score was 27-3, Oklahoma, and the rout was seemingly in the offing.

Colorado did not fold, however.

Late in the third, Bobby Purify scored on a 12-yard run. When Robert Hodge connected with Derek McCoy on a two-point conversion, the Buffs were within two scores at 27-11. In the fourth quarter, Colorado pushed the ball into Oklahoma territory three times, missing a field goal after making it to the Sooner 23-yard line, then turning the ball over on downs at the Oklahoma 14 and 11. On the day, the Buffs out-rushed the Sooners, 204-200, and gained more yards through the air, 174-105.

Winning the yardage battle would not change the scoreboard, though. The Buffs were now 6-3, 4-1 in Big 12 play. Kansas State and Iowa State both had two losses in conference play, while Nebraska was 2-3 in Big 12 action. Contests amongst all of the teams were still to be played, including games the Buffs had on the schedule with the Cyclones and the Cornhuskers. As a result, there remained numerous possibilities for a division champion.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “D-Fiant”, here

Game Ten … 

November 9th – at Missouri           No. 18 Colorado 42, Missouri 35 OT

The Colorado Buffaloes kept their Big 12 destiny in their own hands, but just barely, defeating Missouri in overtime, 42-35.

Chris Brown scored his third touchdown of the game from a yard out in the Buffs’ possession in overtime, with Missouri’s overtime possession ending in a fumble recovery by Colorado linebacker Kory Mossini. The win over the Tigers left the Buffs (7-3, 5-1 in conference play) one win away from capturing a second consecutive Big 12 North title.

Colorado opened up a comfortable 27-7 lead early in the third quarter, scoring on its first five possessions of the game. Quarterback Robert Hodge hit Derek McCoy for a 47-yard score just 3:17 into the contest. A 45-yard field goal by Pat Brougham gave the Buffs a 10-0 cushion late in the first quarter. After Zach Abron scored on a 30-yard run for Missouri to cut the Colorado advantage to 10-7, the Buffs scored the next 17 points of the game. Chris Brown scored from 10 yards out, Pat Brougham kicked another field goal, and Robert Hodge snuck in from the one to give the Buffs a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter.

Instead of settling for the rout and a fifth loss of the season, the Tigers rallied. Led by freshman quarterback Brad Smith, the Tigers roared back. Smith hit tight end Justin Gage from 27 yards out after the Hodge score to reduce the Buff advantage to 27-14. Then Hodge made one of his few mistakes on the day, being intercepted by senior rover back Tauras Ferguson, who raced untouched for a 43-yard touchdown to cut the Buff lead to 27-21 late in the third quarter.

Unable to regain momentum, the Buffs punted the ball back to the Tigers, and Smith took quick advantage. Smith hit Gage for a second score on Missouri’s next drive, this time from a yard out, and less than a quarter after leading 27-7, the Buffs found themselves down, 28-27.

If ever there was a time to see if the Buffs had the stuff champions were made of, it was now.

And the Buffs’ offense responded.

Continue reading story, including Kory Mossini’s “That the fastest I’ve ever crawled”, here

Game Eleven … 

November 16th – Boulder           No. 17 Colorado 41, Iowa State 27

Bobby Purify, subbing for an injured Chris Brown, ran for 174 yards to lead Colorado to a Big 12 North title-clinching win over Iowa State, 41-27.

Purify scored on a five-yard run with 1:53 remaining to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive to finally seal the win for the Buffs in a game which witnessed six lead changes.

Both teams scored on their opening drives, with Pat Brougham connecting from 43 yards out for the Buffs, while tailback Michael Wagner scored from five yards out to give Iowa State a 7-3 lead. In the second quarter, Colorado posted two touchdowns around a 50-yard touchdown pass from Seneca Wallace to Lance Young. First, quarterback Robert Hodge hit receiver D.J. Hackett for an eight-yard touchdown. Then, with 2:45 remaining before halftime, Chris Brown scored from five yards out to give the Buffs a 17-14 edge at the break.

Brown, who would carry the ball 25 times for 127 yards, left the game midway through the third quarter with a bruised sternum and did not return. Iowa State briefly regained the lead with a one-yard Joe Woodley run, but when the extra point kick was blocked by the Buffs, a 40-yard field goal by Brougham knotted the score at 20-all.

With Brown out, the Buffs turned to Purify and Marcus Houston, who had his first carries since being injured in the season opener against Colorado State. Colorado also passed more frequently, with quarterback Robert Hodge hitting 17-of-28 passes for 187 yards and two scores, including a six-yard connection with Derek McCoy with 10:20 remaining to give Colorado a 27-20 lead.

A few minutes later, after a Marcus Houston fumble at the Buff 25, the Colorado defense made the play of the game.

Seneca Wallace, who would account for 365 of Iowa State’s 472 yards of total offense, fumbled the snap from center. Safety Medford Moorer returned the fumble 71 yards for a touchdown and the Buffs’ first two score lead of the game, 34-20, with only 5:12 remaining.

Iowa State countered with a touchdown just 1:16 later. Seneca Wallace went 4-for-4 on the drive passing for 64 yards before finishing the job himself with a six-yard touchdown run. What had seemed like an insurmountable lead with 5:12 on the clock was now very much in jeopardy with 3:56 to play.

Enter Bobby Purify.

Responding in kind to Wallace’s heroics, Purify carried the ball all six plays of Colorado’s ensuing 80-yard drive, including a 50-yard run on the Buffs’ second play from scrimmage. When Purify scored from five yards out with less than two minutes to play, the home crowd of 50,478 could finally celebrate the Buffs’ back-to-back Northern division titles.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “Houston, I don’t think we have any problems”, here

Game Twelve … 

November 29th – at  Nebraska           No. 13 Colorado 28, Nebraska 13

Freshman tailback Brian Calhoun, inserted into the Colorado backfield due to injuries to Chris Brown and Bobby Purify, ran for 137 yards to lead the Buffs to a 28-13 win over Nebraska in Lincoln.

Senior fullback Brandon Drumm scored twice as Colorado won for the eighth time in nine games to claim the outright Big 12 North title. “When it counted, we wanted to win the Big 12 (North) title outright,” said Gary Barnett. “We didn’t want to share it. We wanted to win it in Lincoln, which is very difficult to do.”

Cornerback Phil Jackson intercepted a Jammal Lord pass at the Colorado 13-yard line on Nebraska’s second drive of the game. The Buffs followed up the turnover with a seven-play, 87-yard drive, culminated in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Robert Hodge to Derek McCoy five minutes into the contest. The Colorado 7-0 lead held up until the second quarter, when Lord hit Matt Herian for 80 yards and a tie score. Later in the second, kicker Dale Endorf gave the Cornhuskers their first lead of the game, 10-7, with a 33-yard field goal.

On the Buffs’ first play from scrimmage after halftime, Derek McCoy fumbled, recovered by Nebraska at the Colorado 17. Already down 10-7, and with the Cornhuskers opening in the Colorado red zone, matters looked bleak for the Buffs.

The Colorado defense held, though, forcing Nebraska to settle for a 49-yard Endorf field goal and a 13-7 lead.

The Buffs got the ball back and drove 80 yards in 15 plays to re-claim the lead. Bobby Purify made his last carry of the day count, scoring from two yards out to give Colorado a 14-13 advantage. Purify, who entered the game with a sprained medial collateral ligament, sprained his ankle in the first half. Other than his scoring run, Purify did not return in the second half, setting the stage for Calhoun.

In the first march for a score, Calhoun netted 33 yards. Next, after the Colorado defense held Nebraska to three straight plays losing yardage, the Buffs took over at their own 48-yard line. On the Buffs’ ensuing series, Calhoun ran for 35 yards to the Nebraska 17. Four plays later, fullback Brandon Drumm scored from a yard out to give the Buffs a 21-13 edge heading into the fourth quarter.

The eight point lead was still in doubt late into the final quarter, before Nebraska’s freshman running back, David Horne, fumbled at the Cornhusker 30-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-one at the Cornhusker 21-yard line, Gary Barnett was persuaded to go for a first down. Brandon Drumm rushed for five yards on the play to take the spirit out of the Nebraska faithful. On the next play, Drumm rumbled in from 16 yards out to give the Buffs their first win in Lincoln since 1990, and first back-to-back wins over the Cornhuskers since 1989-90.

Continue reading game story here

Red Sunset

While Colorado was celebrating earning a second consecutive trip to the Big 12 title game, there was no such joy in the Nebraska locker room.

Nebraska senior running back Dahrran Diedrick, who rushed for 96 yards on 13 carries, could not be consoled. “It’s the toughest loss I’ve ever taken at any level of sports,” said Diedrick. “The worst thing about this game is losing. Nobody could imagine our record is what it is and that we’d lose our final two games.”

About that 7-6 record (which would fall to 7-7 after a 27-23 loss to Mississippi in the Independence Bowl). It was indeed a record season for Nebraska, but for all the wrong reasons.

Some of the Nebraska records which fell in 2002:

– ended a 33-year streak of nine-win seasons. While no official records are kept, the next longest streak is believed to be 14 by Florida State;

– ended a run of 348 consecutive appearances in the Associated Press poll. The next longest streak belonged to Florida State, which ended a run of 212 consecutive weeks during the 2001 season;

– worst loss in 34 years, 49-13 to Kansas State (worst since a 47-0 loss to Oklahoma in 1968);

– home-win streak stopped at 26 (27-24 loss to Texas);

– losing two games at home in a season for the first time since 1980;

– losing six games in a season for the first time in 41 years (3-6-1 in 1961);

– losing a conference opener (36-14 to Iowa State) for the first time since losing to Missouri in the 1974 opener;

– a 3-5 conference record, the first losing conference campaign since going 3-4 in Big Eight play in 1968;

– an 0-4 record vs. ranked teams, failing to post a win over a ranked opponent in a season for the first time since 1990.

The loss was hard for the Husker Nation to take. “This was the first time I looked up and seemed like everyone went home before the ballgame was over,” said Diedrick in the silent Cornhusker locker room, adding wistfully, “I guess people had to try and beat the traffic.”

… Here is the YouTube video of highlights from the game … 

Game Thirteen … 

December 7th – Reliant Stadium-Houston           No. 8 Oklahoma 29,  No. 12 Colorado 7

Big 12 Championship Game

Quarterback Nate Hybl threw two touchdown passes and Quentin Griffin ran for a championship record 188 yards and two scores as the Oklahoma Sooners dominated the Buffs, 29-7, to win the Big 12 title for the second time in three years.

Hybl threw touchdown passes of three yards to Trent Smith and 21 yards to Mark Clayton as Oklahoma built a 13-0 halftime lead. Colorado’s anemic offense produced only two field goal attempts in the first half, but still could not score. Buff kicker Pat Brougham missed field goal attempts of 41 and 32 yards as the Buffs were shut out in the first half for the third time in 2002. The only bright spot for the Buffs’ offense was running back Brian Calhoun. Calhoun earned the start as Chris Brown missed his second straight game with a bruised sternum. Gaining 85 yards on carries of 37, 25, and 23 yards, Calhoun posted 115 yards by halftime, but the Buffs had no points to show for Calhoun’s efforts.

For a brief moment in the third quarter, it appeared that Colorado might make a game of the Championship. Less than two minutes into the period, Jeremy Bloom returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown to cut the Sooners’ lead to 13-7.

Here is the YouTube highlight of Bloom’s punt return … 

After a defensive stand, Colorado took the ball downfield once again, only to witness Pat Brougham miss his third field goal attempt of the game, this time from 33 yards out.

Oklahoma then went on to score the remaining 16 points of the contest. Quentin Griffin did most of the damage, scoring on a 36-yard run late in the third quarter, then polishing off the Buffs with a 27-yard score late in the game.

“We stepped into our worst nightmare,” said tackle Justin Bates. “We just gave it away. It was worse than Norman. We worked our butts off to get to this point, but we just didn’t play Colorado football tonight.” On the evening, the Buffs managed just nine first downs, running only 47 plays. Brian Calhoun finished with 122 yards rushing, but only seven in the last two quarters.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “History doesn’t repeat itself; it rhymes”, here

Game Fourteen … 

December 28th – Alamo Bowl           Wisconsin 31, No. 14 Colorado 28 – OT

Sophomore kicker Mike Allen connected from 37 yards out to lift the Wisconsin Badgers to a 31-28 overtime win over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Allen’s kick capped a fourth quarter rally by the Badgers, who won for the seventh time in eight bowl games under head coach Barry Alverez.

Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the game. The Buffs opened the scoring on Donald Strickland’s Alamo Bowl record 91-yard interception return in the first quarter. After one of Robert Hodge’s three interceptions in the first half, Wisconsin scored on a three-play, 19-yard drive to tie the score. The Buffs responded with their best drive of the game, going 83 yards in 11 plays. Senior receiver D.J. Hackett scored on a 10-yard pass from Hodge to put the Buffs up 14-7 on the last play of the first quarter.

The second quarter was all Wisconsin, as the Badgers turned two more Hodge interceptions into scores. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger hit two touchdown passes to give Wisconsin a 21-14 halftime edge. Just before halftime, Barnett lifted Robert Hodge in favor of backup senior quarterback Zac Colvin.

In the third quarter, it was Wisconsin’s turn to suffer from turnovers. A botched punt return gave the Buffs good field position. Chris Brown, playing for the first time since the Iowa State game, scored from four yards out to tie the game at 21-all. Running back Anthony Davis fumbled on Wisconsin’s next play, setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Colvin to Hackett. Colorado took a 28-21 lead into the final stanza.

Wisconsin took possession, still down 28-21, with 2:25 left in the game at its own 20-yard line. Five plays later, Bollinger and the Badgers faced a 4th-and-18 at their own 48-yard line. Bollinger promptly completed a 27-yard pass to Brandon Williams for a first down. Four plays later, the Badgers were again one play away from a loss, staring at 4th-and-10 at the Colorado 29-yard line. Bollinger this time hit wideout Darrin Charles for 28 yards to the Colorado one yard line. With 51 seconds to play, Bollinger did the honors himself, tying the game with a one-yard run.

In overtime, the Colorado offense, which had gone into a shell after Chris Brown left the game with a concussion, was useless. Three plays lost four yards, leaving Buff hopes in the hands of Pat Brougham. Brougham, who had missed three field goals against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, was not close from 45 yards out. Three conservative plays later, Mike Allen connected for Wisconsin from 37 yards, and the Buffs had lost consecutive games for the first time all season.

“We had our opportunities, you know,” said junior defensive end Marques Harris. “We just didn’t come through.” Gary Barnett concurred. “We had a chance to win the game before” overtime, said the Buffs’ head coach, now 1-2 in bowl games at Colorado (1-4 overall). “Bottom line, we had chances.”

The loss left the Buffs at 9-5, falling to a final No. 20 ranking in the polls. “I’d hate to have this (loss) take away from our season,” said Barnett. Despite having overcome a 1-2 start, an 0-2 finish left a bad taste in the mouths of many Buff fans.

Continue reading story, including my essay for the game, “The 2002 Season: A Dramatic Act in Three Parts”, here

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