A Pleasant Stroll Down Memory Lane – 1986; 1991; 1996; 2001 and, for fun, 2016

The 2021 season is now within our sights, and, with any luck, it will feel like a normal season.

As we wait for the September 3rd opener against Northern Colorado, let’s spend some quality time this summer with some great Buff teams of the past. The 2021 season will be the 35th anniversary the 1986 season (with the greatest CU game in the past 50 years), the 30th anniversary of the 1991 season (Big Eight three-peat); the 25th anniversary of the 1996 season (the first season of the Big 12); and the 20th anniversary of the 2001 season (62-36, anyone?). Oh, and it’s already the fifth anniversary of the Buffs unexpected run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back at the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons, posting the week-by-week results (if you want to read ahead, the CU at the Game Archives are always there for you). I look forward to your reading your comments, and hearing your stories …

Previously postedPreseasonGame OnesGame TwosGame ThreesGame FoursGame FivesGame SixesGame Sevens

*** Note *** … The CU at the Game Podcast has been dovetailing with this series. Episode 9 of Season Two, includes our discussion of the 1986 Nebraska game (20-10!!) and the 1991 “Ice Bowl” v. Nebraska (a 19-19 tie). Episode 10 of Season Two, meanwhile, includes our discussion of the 2001 Nebraska game (62-36!!) and the 2016 Oregon game (“The biggest play in Colorado football for years!!”).  Those episodes, along with every other CU at the Game Podcast, can be found here

Game Eights …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 


Game Eight (CU came into the game 3-4, 3-0 in Big Eight play) … Colorado 31, Oklahoma State 14 … The undefeated – at least in Big Eight conference play – Colorado Buffaloes traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma for a game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, just seven days after accomplishing the impossible in defeating No. 3 Nebraska.

How would the Buffs, 3-0 in the Big Eight (for the first time since 1967), 3-4 overall, play against the 3-4 Cowboys?  After all, the reality was that Colorado had not defeated Oklahoma State since 1981, and had not won in Stillwater since 1976.

It was the story of two halves.

Fortunately for Colorado, the game lasted sixty minutes, with the Buffs coming away with a 31-14 win.

In the first half, the Buffs played as if the huge win against Nebraska entitled them to coast against any lesser opponent.  The Buffs sleep-walked their way to a 14-3 halftime deficit.  Out-gained in total yards at the break by a margin of 219-95, Colorado seemed to have reverted back to the Buffs who had opened the 1986 campaign 0-4.

The second half, however, demonstrated that a corner had in fact been turned.

“Fear is a great motivator”, said nose tackle Kyle Rappold after the game, “Just the realization that so much was riding on it …. we really want a slugfest against Oklahoma for the Big Eight championship.”  Head coach Bill McCartney agreed that the Buffs’ positive attitude emerged at the half:  “I think our kids were really angry at halftime.  Not deflated, just angry and determined.”

On the Buffs’ first possession of the second half, the offense drove 74 yards on nine plays for a touchdown that reduced the Cowboys’ lead to 14-10.  The drive, culminating in a 23-yard pass from Mark Hatcher to freshman halfback O.C. Oliver, changed the momentum for the remainder of the game.

The Buffs went on to out-score the Cowboys, 28-0, in the second half, cruising to a 31-14 win.

As poorly as the first half stat sheet had appeared, the second half was golden: 254 total yards to 80 for the Cowboys; 13 Colorado first downs to just four for Oklahoma State. Quarterback Mark Hatcher led the attack, running for one score in rushing for a team high 69 yards. Hatcher also completed four-of-seven passes for 68 yards, including the 23-yard touchdown pass to O.C. Oliver in the third quarter to ignite the rally.

Continue reading game story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”


Game Eight (CU came into the game 5-2, 3-0 in Big Eight play) … No. 15 Colorado 19, No. 9 Nebraska 19 … In the bitter cold of Folsom Field, Colorado and Nebraska fought to a 19-19 tie in a classic college football game.

The tie was preserved for Colorado when senior free safety Greg Thomas blocked a 41-yard field goal attempt by Nebrasak kicker Byron Bennett as time expired. Three successive time outs by the Buffs prior to the attempt served to freeze not only the Cornhusker kicker, but also the sell-out crowd of 52,319 who had braved the cold to attend.

The last seconds of the contest will be most remembered, but there were other moments of excitement as the game witnessed a number of momentum changes.

Both teams scored on their first possession, with Nebraska posting a field goal before the Buffs responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead. Darian Hagan did the honors from 11 yards out to give the Buffs a 7-3 lead. Midway through the second quarter, Jim Harper hit on a 27-yard field goal to up the Colorado lead to 10-3.

Just before half, Nebraska seemed to take the momentum, as Nebraska quarterback Keithen McCant hit split end Jon Bostick for a 49-yard touchdown. Nebraska was a PAT away from tying the score at 10-10 with just 1:17 before half, but the Buffs had other ideas. Sophomore defensive tackle Jeff Brunner blocked the extra point attempt, with linebacker Greg Biekert scooping up the ball and racing 85 yards for a rare defensive extra point. The two point play netted the Buffs a 12-9 halftime advantage.

Nebraska tied the score with a 35-yard Bennett field goal in the third quarter before Colorado regained the lead, 19-12, late in the stanza on a four-yard run by Hagan. A seven-yard score by Nebraska’s Derek Brown then tied the score at 19-19 with 6:41 to play.

Each team had chances to pull out the win in the game’s final minutes, with Nebraska having the best chance before Thomas’ heroics preserved the tie for Colorado. Nebraska got the ball with about a minute to play, and made it as far as the Colorado 23-yard line, but was unable to pull out the victory.

“We don’t go out in that kind of weather to play for a tie,” said McCartney after the game. “We played for a win. I’m disappointed with a tie anytime, but we’re still very much in the Orange Bowl picture.”

Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne was similar in his comments: “We still have a good shot at the Big Eight championship. Naturally, the tie hurts. But I guess it beats the alternative.”

Continue reading story here (including my Essay entitled: “Fit To Be Tied“) …

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”


Game Eight (CU came into the game 6-1; 4-0 in Big 12 play) … No. 7 Colorado 41, Missouri 13 … By the time the Colorado/Missouri game rolled around the first week of November in 1996, the Missouri Tigers had already matched their win total for all of 1995.

For head coach Larry Smith, that was the good news. The bad news was that the Tigers had only won three games in 1995, posting a 3-8 record. Missouri was 3-4 in 1996, and faced the Buffs with a 1-3 record in Big 12 play.

Still, that one Big 12 victory had come the weekend before the game against the Buffs, a 35-28 victory over Oklahoma State. So Missouri, while not a ranked team by any means, was not a team to be taken lightly by the Buffs.

Colorado responded to the challenge, rolling to a 41-13 win, the Buffs’ 12th straight in the series.

Quarterback Koy Detmer and wide receiver Rae Carruth took turns setting records in the second half as a 14-10 halftime lead became a rout. Detmer passed for a school-record 457 yards for the game, while at the same time passing Kordell Stewart’s 1993 single season record for passing yards of 2,299 (Detmer’s total for 1996 was 2,391 yards after the Missouri game, and still counting).

Detmer’s three touchdown passes (two to Carruth), gave him 35 for his career, also passing a mark established by Kordell Stewart. Carruth hauled in seven receptions for 222 yards, tying Walter Stanley’s 1981 record for most receiving yards in a single game. With his seven catches on the day, Carruth added to his school record (19 and counting) of consecutive games with at least three receptions.

For the day, the Buffs rolled up 562 yards of total offense.

Records aside, the Tigers fought the Buffs hard for over two quarters of play.

A 22-yard field goal by Missouri was the only scoring by either team in the first 21 minutes of play on a cold (35 degrees) and blustery (10-15 mph) November afternoon.

Colorado finally got on the board midway through the second period on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Detmer to Carruth. Missouri responded with its only touchdown of the game to take its last lead, 10-7, with 2:39 to play before halftime.

The Buff offense then drove 89 yards in just under two minutes of playing time to retake the lead. Fullback Lendon Henry did the honors from four yards out, making it 14-10 with just 40 seconds to play before halftime.

Colorado slowly took control of the game in the third quarter, with two 34-yard touchdown passes (ironically enough, both coming on fourth down) sandwiched around a Missouri field goal. The first touchdown pass went to Carruth on a fourth-and-12; the second to Phil Savoy on a fourth-and-7, with Savoy’s touchdown giving Colorado a 28-13 lead a few plays into in the fourth quarter.

A two-yard touchdown run by red-shirt freshman Dwayne Cherrington, the first of his career, upped the lead to 34-13 (the kick was blocked), with a 54-yard fumble return for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Marcus Washington closing out the scoring with 4:07 to play.

Continue reading game story here  …

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

Game Eight (CU came into the game 5-2; 3-1 in Big 12 play) No. 25 Colorado 25, Oklahoma State 19 … Against Oklahoma State, Colorado continued what was becoming an agonizing pattern for the 2001 season: play well early; let the opposition control the game for a significant portion of the mid-section of the game; then finish with a flourish.

The formula had worked well against Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, and now was a successful formula against the Cowboys.  The net result was a hard-fought 22-19 win in Stillwater.

On CU’s opening drive, quarterback Craig Ochs hit 27-year old senior wide receiver Matt Brunson for a 74-yard touchdown to put the Buffs up 7-0.  After linebacker Andy Peeke partially blocked an OSU punt on the Cowboys’ next possession, the Buffs were set up at the OSU 26-yard line.

The Buffs were up a score, and had the 2-5 Cowboys on the ropes.  A holding penalty and a missed 35-yard field goal attempt by Jeremy Flores later, however, Oklahoma State was back in the game.

With 9:20 left in the first half and Colorado maintaining a 7-0 lead, Craig Ochs was sacked.  Ochs was injured on the play, straining a tendon in his right ankle, and did not return.

Oklahoma State quickly capitalized, putting together an 85-yard drive to tie the score.  Moments later, CU long-snapper Jake Jones centered the ball over punter Mark Mariscal’s head and out of the end zone for a safety.  9-7, OSU.

Adding insult to injury, on the ensuing drive, quarterback Bobby Pesavento, subbing for Ochs, was hit as he passed.  The pass was intercepted by OSU linebacker Dwayne Levels, who returned the ball 57 yards for an unlikely 16-7 Oklahoma State lead at halftime.

In the third, the Buffs continued to move the ball, but were unable to muster any points until the last play of the quarter.  Down 19-7 after a Cowboy field goal, Marcus Houston brought the Buffs back to within 19-14 with a 16-yard touchdown run.

The fourth quarter, while tense, was dominated by the Buffs.

The Colorado defense gave up drives which entered Buff territory, but did not surrender any more points.  Twice Oklahoma State was forced to give up the ball on downs, and Buff safety Michael Lewis contributed an interception on a ball tipped by teammate Kory Mossoni.

The game’s winning points came with 5:55 remaining, as Bobby Pesavento hit tight end Daniel Graham from 21 yards out to put the Buffs up 20-19.  Two unsportsmanlike penalties – one for Graham spiking the ball, the other for tackle Victor Rogers removing his helmet – put the Buffs at the 33-yard line.  With nothing to lose, the Buffs went for two points.  Bobby Pesavento proceeded to hit Derek McCoy alone in the end zone for the 22-19 final.

“That was a struggle and a fight,” said Gary Barnett after the game.  “We overcame what we were doing to ourselves (including 13 penalties for 112 yards).”

Continue reading story here (including my Essay for the game “Bowl Eligible“) …

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”


Game Eight (CU came into the game 5-2; 3-1 in Pac-12 play) Colorado 10, Stanford 5 … Colorado became bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 with a hard-fought 10-5 win over Stanford. Buff field goal kickers missed three of four field goal attempts, making the game tense throughout, but four turnovers forced by the Buff defense preserved the victory.

Sefo Liufau connected with Shay Fields on a 15-yard score early in the second quarter, providing the game’s only touchdown. Otherwise, Liufau was largely held in check, hitting 12-of-25 for 135 yards, but was picked up by running back Phillip Lindsay, who had 12 carries for 131 yards.

In holding the Cardinal out of the end zone, the Buff defense had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tedric Thompson had two interceptions, the second coming midway through the fourth quarter, setting up the Buffs’ field goal. Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode recovered a fumble at the Buff five yard line to snuff out Stanford’s drive to take the lead, with Isaiah Oliver collecting his interception in the final minutes to seal the victory.

“We have one goal, and that’s Pac-12 champions,” said running back Phillip Lindsay after rushing for 131 yards before leaving midway through the third quarter with an ankle injury. “Winning six games, that’s cool, it’s cute. But we have to continue to move on. We have bigger things to worry about.”

Continue reading game story here

My Essay for the game,  “Changing of the Guard” … There was a seismic event in the Bay Area this weekend … and it had nothing to do with earthquakes.

Stanford and Oregon, the two teams which have won all five of the Pac-12 titles to date, officially bowed out of the race for the 2016 Pac-12 championship. On Friday night, Oregon lost to California, 52-49, in a game which featured 203 plays, 101 points, and 1,086 total yards. Then, on Saturday afternoon, Stanford lost to Colorado, 10-5, in a game which featured a grand total of one touchdown and just over 600 total yards between the two offenses.

Oregon and Stanford found two different ways to lose this weekend.

Yet the two teams suffered similar fates.

Oregon, which has lost five straight for the first time since 1996, fell to 2-5, 1-4 in Pac-12 play. Stanford, which lost to Colorado for the first time since 1990, fell to 4-3, 2-3 in Pac-12 play. While there are still mathematical possibilities for the Ducks or Cardinal to overtake Washington (7-0, 4-0) and Washington State (5-2, 4-0) … but it ain’t happenin’.

Which means that, after three Stanford titles (2012, 2013, and 2015) and two for Oregon (2011, 2014), there will be a new Pac-12 champion anointed at the Pac-12 title game in Levi’s Stadium on December 2nd.

A changing of the guard.

Continue reading Essay here

… Up Next … Game Nines for the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons … coming soon … 


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