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 SevensGame Eights

*** 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 Nines …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 


Game Nine (CU came into the game 4-4, 4-0 in Big Eight play) … Colorado 17, Kansas 10 … In a reverse from the Oklahoma State game the week before, Colorado played well early, then hung on late to post a 17-10 win over Kansas.

Rolling to a 17-0 second quarter lead, the Buffs scored on a one yard run by junior halfback Mike Marquez, a 24-yard field goal by Dave DeLine, and a 34-yard reverse by freshman split end Jeff Campbell.  The latter score was a reprise of the two reverses Campbell ran so successfully in the Nebraska game.

Campbell’s score made it 17-0 with 8:42 still remaining in the first half. Those in attendance at Folsom Field that afternoon were able to sit back, bundle up on an otherwise chilly and unpleasant afternoon, presuming the rest of the game against the 3-5 Jayhawks (0-4 in conference play) would be a cakewalk.

Make that sleepwalk.

After Kansas quarterback Kelly Donahue scored on a one yard run to make the score 17-10 with 8:47 still left in the third quarter, Kansas was within a touchdown of the Buffs, and would remain that way for the rest of the contest.

In the stands, for those of us who had seen the Buffs fold all too many times in the past, the worst was feared.

As had been the case in the Nebraska contest, though, the defense would not let the game slip away.

While the Buff offense did hold the ball for over 35 minutes of the game, and did post 332 yards of rushing, the game was left in doubt as Colorado could not push across another score.  The defense came to the rescue, intercepting Kansas quarterback Kelly Donahue three times (two by senior linebacker Darin Schubeck), and holding the Jayhawks to only 78 yards rushing.  It was the fourth time in five conference games in which the Buff defense held the opponent to less than 100 yards rushing (Nebraska managed only 123 yards rushing, after coming into the game averaging 335.2 yards per contest).

The home crowd of 37,056 was the official tally, but only 30,779 actually braved the freezing temperatures and 25-mph winds which whipped through Folsom Field.  To the Buffs’ fans’ credit, though, while the attendance was only 75% of capacity, the attendance did represent the largest home crowd for a Jayhawk game since the Buffs, then boasting a 4-0 record, hosted Kansas in 1978.  Colorado was now 5-0 in conference, and the faithful were beginning to return.

Up next: fourth ranked Oklahoma, also 5-0 in conference, but 8-1 overall.

Continue reading game story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”


Game Nine (CU came into the game 5-2-1, 3-0-1 in Big Eight play) … 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.

The win kept the Buffs chances of a return to the Orange Bowl for a third straight year alive, but just barely.

The near miss against a winless cost the Buffs two spots in the next poll, with Colorado dropping to 16th.  Nebraska, with a 59-23 rout of Kansas, kept its No. 11 ranking.  With two games remaining, it was now highly unlikely Colorado would overtake Nebraska in the polls.  If the Buffs were to return to Miami for the third consecutive year, the Cornhuskers would have to lose, at home, to either Iowa State or Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, if the Buffs continued to play as they had against Oklahoma State, they would play themselves out of the Orange Bowl race altogether.

Continue reading story here (including video game highlights) …

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”


Game Nine (CU came into the game 7-1; 5-0 in Big 12 play) … No. 7 Colorado 49, Iowa State 42 … Iowa State brought to Boulder running back Troy Davis, on his way to a season in which he would post 2,185 rushing yards.

Iowa State also brought to Boulder a team with a 2-6 overall record.

For the Colorado Homecoming game, the Cyclones tried to keep it close, but could not compete with the combination of Detmer and Carruth. Two touchdowns in the final 2:24 of the game by Iowa State gave the final score a dramatic feel, but it was 28 points posted by the Buffs within a 16-minute span in the second half which was the story of the game.

Iowa State opened the game with a 47-yard field goal on its opening possession, which Colorado countered with a touchdown drive on its first possession. Quarterback Koy Detmer hit freshman tight end Brody Heffner for an 11-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead midway through the first quarter.

Colorado extended the lead to 14-3 a few minutes later, when Detmer hit Rae Carruth for a 77-yard touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage for the Buffs all season.

A rout seemed to be in the making, but the 49,662 on hand on a beautiful 63-degree fall afternoon were instead treated to a football game.

Iowa State scored the next ten points of the contest, pulling to within a point at 14-13 midway through the second quarter. A second Detmer-to-Carruth touchdown connection, this time from three yards out, gave the Buffs a 21-13 halftime lead.

The Buffs’ No. 7 national ranking was in jeopardy midway through the third quarter, however, after the Cyclones scored two touchdowns to take a 28-21 lead.

Then … the Colorado offense exploded.

Over the next 16 minutes, the Buffs scored four touchdowns. Two Herchell Troutman touchdowns, from one and four yards out, gave the Buffs back the lead. Detmer then posted two more scoring passes to close out the Cyclones. Detmer hit Heffner for the second time on the afternoon, this time from 25 yards out, before connecting with Carruth for a third time – a 42-yard score – to complete the onslaught.

With three minutes remaining in the game, the score was a dominant 49-28, but the Cyclones scored twice late, making the final a more respectable 49-42.

For the game, Colorado had 591 yards of total offense, 401 through the air, to counter a 228-yard rushing effort by Troy Davis. Koy Detmer continued to re-write the Colorado passing record books, adding single-season records for attempts, completions and touchdowns to the yardage record he had set the previous week against Missouri.

With the win, Colorado moved to 8-1 for 1996, 6-0 in the Big 12 Conference. The Buffs’ offense was on a roll, topping 500 total yards and 400 yards passing for the second week in a row. The Buffs were now up to No. 6 in the polls, moving up a spot after the previous No. 6, Tennessee, inexplicably fell to Memphis, 21-17.

The 1996 season would now boil down to two games against two top ten teams.

Two top ten teams which also happened to play in the same Northern Division of the Big 12.

Up first: No. 8 Kansas State. The Wildcats were also 8-1, with their only loss coming to Nebraska, 39-3, back in September.

Continue reading game story here  …

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

Game Nine (CU came into the game 6-2; 4-1 in Big 12 play) No. 25 Colorado 38, Missouri 24 … Colorado spotted the Missouri a 14-0 second quarter lead before roaring back to take a 38-24 win at home over the Tigers.  Bobby Pesavento, Cortlen Johnson, Bobby Purify, and Roman Hollowell each took turns leading the Buffs, who improved to 7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Big 12.

Bobby Pesavento completed 16-of-19 passes in the first half for 252 yards and two scores to lead the Buffs to a 17-14 halftime lead.  In the second half, Pesavento threw just three passes, as CU’s strong running game took over.  Cortlen Johnson carried the ball 11 times for 102 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, while Bobby Purify contributed 92 yards and a 31-yard score.  In all, the Buffs posted 499 yards of total offense.

Still, the game was close throughout.

In the first half, the Buffs turned the ball over three times and missed two field goal attempts, keeping the Tigers in the game.  When a Pesavento pass to Daniel Graham was picked off by MU defensive back Kevin Johnson and returned 59 yards for a 14-0 Missouri lead, the Buffs’ statistical advantage was of little consolation.

A 17-point flurry by the Buffs in the last two minutes of the first half gave Colorado much needed momentum.

First, Pesavento hit Matt Brunson for a 25-yard score with 1:55 left.  Then, after a CU defensive stand, Pesavento hit Graham from 36 yards out to tie the score with 30 seconds left.  Then, instead of taking a knee to end the half, Missouri attempted to run the ball.  Colorado strong safety Michael Lewis forced a fumble, setting up a 36-yard Jeremy Flores field goal as time expired.

The game remained tight in the second half, with Missouri pulling to within 31-24 early in the fourth quarter.  With 9:46 left, though, Roman Hollowell put the game out of reach with a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown.  The Tigers would not recover after Hollowell’s score, and the Buffs had a 14-point win.

It was just another day at the office for the 7-2 Buffs.

“We have great senior leadership”, said Bobby Pesavento after the game, one of 26 seniors on the Buff roster.  “Everyone is responding well to the coaching.  No one gets down, and we just get the job done.”

Head coach Gary Barnett agreed with his quarterback.  “This is a team that is used to seeing bad things happen to them.  We didn’t panic and seemed to hold our poise.  Roman’s punt return was huge for us.”

The win over Missouri pushed the Buffs to No. 21 in the polls.  A bowl game was now all but assured.  Now, Colorado could afford to set its sights higher.

With a win over Iowa State (5-3, 3-3), the Buffs would have the opportunity to play Nebraska for the Big 12 North title.  A sixth conference win would also guarantee the Buffs no worse than a second place finish in the Big 12 North.

Not bad for a team which had struggled to a 3-8 record a year earlier.

Continue reading story here


2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”


Game Nine (CU came into the game 6-2; 4-1 in Pac-12 play) 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.”

Continue reading game story here

... Game Highlights … 

My Essay for the game,  “Even the 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.

Continue reading Essay here

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



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