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 slip inside of 100 days before the 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 months, 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 Twos

*** Posted *** … The CU at the Game Podcast has returned. In addition to a discussion of the Sam Noyer announcement, with Brad and I looked back at the memorable CU/Nebraska games in 1986 (“20-10”!!) and the Ice Bowl of 1991 … This episode for the podcast, which is now well into its second season, can be found here

Game Threes …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 


Game Three (CU 0-2) … Ohio State 13, Colorado 10 … The Colorado Buffaloes played before the then second largest road crowd in school history, 88,404 (the Buffs played before 91,203 against Michigan in 1974.  Subsequent road games against Michigan, Ohio State, Texas and Georgia have surpassed both totals), succumbing in the last minute, 13-10.

For the third straight game, the Buffs could not put together a complete team effort.  Against Colorado State in the opener, the defense had played well, only to be betrayed by the offense and six turnovers.  Against Oregon, the offense had shined, only to have the defense fail to come up with the big play.

Against Ohio State, it was the Colorado State game all over again – good defense; no offense.

The Buffs’ defense shut down Ohio State, with the Buckeyes only touchdown “drive” of the game covering all of 14 yards after a William White interception in the second quarter.  Without much effort, and the Buckeyes were hand-delivered a 10-0 halftime lead.

Not only should the Buffs not have given up a cheap score, they should have held the lead at intermission.

Colorado linebacker John Nairn intercepted Ohio State quarterback Jim Karsatos in the second quarter. with the Buffs trailing just 3-0.  Colorado could penetrate no further than the one yard line, though, as fullback Anthony Weatherspoon was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.  Denied a score, the Buffs were back in business after a poor punt, setting up at the Buckeyes’ 28 yard line.  Three plays and seven yards later, Buff kicker Dave DeLine missed a 37-yard field goal.

The Buffs were finally able to get on the board late in the third quarter, as DeLine connected on a 37-yard effort.  (Ironically, DeLine would have three 37-yard field goal attempts on the day.  Unfortunately for Colorado and its fans, DeLine made only one).

Colorado knotted the score at 10-all with 5:21 left in the game on a 19-yard scoring pass from Mark Hatcher to split end Lance Carl. Another close game, on the road, against a quality opponent. The 0-2 Buffs were on the verge of an upset, but needed someone to come through.

Both teams had opportunities to win the game in the closing minutes.

The Buffs failed, however, while the Buckeyes were able to capitalize.  According to Bill McCartney and cornerback David Tate, the Buckeyes were only able to capitalize with a little help from the referees.  A pass from Jim Karsatos fell incomplete on a third-and-11 from the Buffs’ 23 yard line, but Tate was called for pass interference at the Colorado four.  Only 1:37 remained in the game.  “I was trying to strip him of the ball, but I missed him”, Tate explained, “It was a late flag.”  Ohio State then called on kicker Pat O’Morrow to seal the win.  At 19 yards, the kick was shorter than an extra point, but O’Morrow made it interesting, just sneaking the kick between the uprights.

For the second week in a row, the Buffs were witness to an opposing kicker stealing a win from them in the final minute of play.

Colorado was now 0-3, with 10th-ranked Arizona coming to Boulder.  What else could go wrong in 1986?

Continue reading game story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”


Game Three (CU 1-1) … No.19 Colorado 58, Minnesota 0 … The Minnesota Golden Gophers came to Boulder 1-0 on the young season, hoping to build on their 6-5 effort from 1990. Instead, it was the Buffs who left Folsom Field with an improved state of mind, as Colorado mauled Minnesota, 58-0. In all, Colorado amassed 612 yards of total offense, surpassing the 600-yard mark for only the eighth time in school history.

Leading the onslaught was quarterback Darian Hagan, who passed for two touchdowns, connecting on 7-of-8 passes for 162 yards. The tone was set early, as Minnesota turned the ball on the first possession of the contest. On the Buffs’ first play, Hagan connected with tight end Rico Smith on a 40-yard touchdown.

In all, the Buffs scored on six of seven first half possessions on their way to a 38-0 halftime lead.

The second half allowed the Buffs to give younger players a chance to give the Folsom Field faithful a glimpse of the future. In all, 72 players saw action. Sophomore quarterback Vance Joseph led the Buffs to three touchdowns, while freshman quarterback Kordell Stewart also played. Stewart led the Buffs in rushing, picking up 73 yards on eight carries, including a four-yard fourth quarter touchdown run.

Another true freshman who Buff fans would come to know well, running back Lamont Warren, scored the first two touchdowns of his career, including a 30-yard run midway through the second quarter.

The rout of Minnesota allowed Colorado to rise up two spots in the next poll, up to No. 17.

The Buffs were now 2-1 on the young season, just one spot below Nebraska, which had fallen, 36-21, at home to No. 4 Washington. A road game against 0-2 Stanford and a home game against a mediocre Missouri squad were all that stood between the Buffs and a shot, albeit on the road, against undefeated and 6th-ranked Oklahoma.

A rout of Minnesota in the books, a third consecutive run for the national title once again seemed plausible.

Continue reading game story here

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”


Game Three (CU 2-0) … No. 11 Michigan 20, No. 5 Colorado 13 … The college football world turned its focus on Boulder, Colorado, for the season’s third weekend. As it turned out, the Colorado/Michigan game was be the only game in the country between two ranked teams, so the national media, including the Gameday crew from ESPN, were on hand for the game.

A crowd of 53,788, the third-largest in Folsom Field history to that date, crammed into the stadium to see the second game of the three game series. If the “Hail Mary” game of 1994 was any indication, the game would be one for the ages.

Make that one for the “do over” file, as Michigan defeated Colorado, 20-13.

The game can be summarized by three numbers: 14, 99, and -1. Fourteen were the number of penalties committed by the Buffs (the third straight game with over 10 penalties); 99 represents the yards lost on the penalties, and -1 for the 20-13 loss.

Colorado was held scoreless in the second half for the first time in 42 games after assuming a 13-10 halftime lead. Lendon Henry scored on a eight yard run to put the Buffs up 7-3 in the second quarter, and the Buffs went to the locker room up 13-10 (the PAT was blocked) after Koy Detmer hit junior receiver Phil Savoy on a five-yard strike.

Capitalizing on two short Colorado punts, Michigan scored twice in the third, first on a 42-yard field goal to tie the game, then taking the lead for good in the final minute of the third on a three-yard touchdown pass from Scott Dreisbach to Matt Tuman.

While the Buffs were held scoreless in the second half, they did have their chances in the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth, Detmer hit James Kidd for an apparent 46-yard touchdown pass, only to have the play called back on an illegal motion penalty on freshman tight end Brody Heffner. Instead of tying the score, the drive ended on a failed fourth-down pass. In the fateful drive, the Buffs gained 102 yards (not including the 46 yards for the nullified touchdown) and yet failed to score. Penalties. Penalties. And more Penalties.

All hope for a miracle finish looked bleak for Colorado as Michigan was running out the clock with the Buffs out of time outs. Fortunately for Colorado, Wolverine quarterback Scott Dreisbach suffered a mental lapse late as Michigan faced a fourth down with the clock running. Instead of taking the snap from center and holding the ball for a few seconds, Dreisbach took a knee. The clock automatically stopped with the change of possession.

Five seconds still remained on the game clock.

The opportunity for one play remained. Colorado had the ball at the Michigan 37 yard line. Colorado called the same play which had sent the 1994 game into history – Rocket Jets Right. Detmer took the snap, faded back, paused, and then heaved the ball for the right side of the endzone. Several Buffs and Wolverines were there (including a sophomore Wolverine defensive back by the name of Charles Woodson), but this time the ball was deflected harmlessly toward the sidelines.

Continue reading game story here

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”


Game Three (CU 1-1) Colorado 51, San Jose State 15 … Colorado demonstrated that the convincing victory over Colorado State was no fluke, amassing 560 yards of total offense in dominating San Jose State, 51-15.  Sophomore Chris Brown scored three touchdowns in leading the Buffs’ balanced attack.  In all, CU, improving to 2-1 on the young season, put up 297 yards through the air and 263 yards on the ground.

“Our plan was just to go out and run the ball first and see how they were going to adjust to that,” said Gary Barnett.  “All we wanted to do was turn around and hand the ball off.”  The Buffs did just that, carrying the ball 55 times on the day.

In the first quarter, Chris Brown had scoring runs of twelve and five yards, while Bobby Purify contributed a 30-yard score to put the Buffs up 21-0 in the first quarter, effectively ending any doubt as to the final outcome.

After a San Jose State field goal, Donald Strickland returned an interception for a touchdown for the second time in as many weeks, doing so on an acrobatic play.  In seemingly one motion, Strickland batted a Marcus Arroyo pass into the air, caught it, and lunged into the end-zone to complete a three-yard return, putting the Buffs up 28-3 in the second quarter.

Everyone contributed to the rout.

The defensive pitched in two interceptions and two blocked kicks while holding heralded running back Deonce Whittaker to 66 yards on 18 carries.  On offense, Craig Ochs completed 14-of-22 passes for 208 yards, including a touchdown pass of 33 yards to sophomore wideout Derek McCoy.  Ochs’ favorite target on the day, tight end Daniel Graham, had a career-high eight catches for 133 yards.

Backup quarterback Bobby Pesavento also saw action, connecting with receiver Matt Brunson on a 62-yard pass, allowing the 27-year old Brunson to become the oldest CU player to score since 28-year old placekicker Pete Dadiotis played for the Buffs in 1978.

“We had pretty much a complete game,” said Gary Barnett.  “We’re a pretty good team right now.  We’re playing with confidence.”

Quarterback Craig Ochs agreed, “We’re starting to get a little swagger now.  We just have to keep it up for the next several games – all season really.”

Two big wins.  Restored confidence in the locker-room.  The dark clouds of controversy, swirling around the Buffs’ program just two short weeks earlier, seemed to be far off in the distance.

There were dark clouds brewing, however.

Only they were coming from an unforeseen source.

Continue reading game story here

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”


Game Three (CU 2-0) No. 4 Michigan 45, Colorado 28 … Colorado jumped out a to a 14-0 lead on Michigan in the first five minutes, but special teams mistakes and an injured quarterback prevented the Buffs from coming up with an upset, falling on the road to the 4th-ranked Wolverines, 45-28.

Sefo Liufau went 16-for-25 for 246 yards and three touchdowns, but left the game in the third quarter with a right leg injury. After Liufau left the game, the Buff offense faltered, allowing the Wolverines to turn an close game into a 17-point victory.

Shay Fields had seven catches for 99 yards and a score, with Devin Ross collecting seven receptions for 77 yards and two scores. The Buffs, though, were held to just 64 total yards rushing on 33 carries, a 1.9 yard average. Overall, Colorado had 325 yards, holding Michigan to 397. The Buffs, who were 4th in the nation in third down conversion offense coming into the game (66.2%), were held to 1-of-13 in third down conversions by the Wolverine defense.

“The message to our team was that we got a good football team”, said Mike MacIntyre, who fell to 0-19 against ranked teams (0-12 at Colorado). “We have to correct a few things. When you are playing another good football team, you have to do some of those things better so we will go back and correct them and move forward to the next game.”

Continue reading game story here … Essay for the game, “Good Guys Who Want to Wincan be found here

… Coming Next … Game Four for the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons … coming soon … 


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