Colorado-West Virginia: Win Returns Buffaloes to National Relevance

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Colorado-West Virginia: Win Returns Buffaloes to National Relevance

Sept. 18—Boulder

Colorado 17, No. 21 West Virginia 14 (OT)

Aric Goodman connected on a 25-yard field goal in overtime, lifting Colorado to a 17-14 win over No. 21 West Virginia. Just moments after Mountaineer kicker Pat McAfee’s 23-yard attempt clanked off the left upright to end West Virginia’s overtime possession, Goodman snuck his 25-yarder just inside the same upright.

Goodman’s kick not only gave Colorado its first 3-0 start since the 2004 season but also earned the former walk-on a scholarship.

The low-scoring affair did not start out that way, as three touchdowns were scored in the first four possessions of the game. The Buffs opened the scoring with a nine-play, 83-yard drive to take a lead they would never fully relinquish.

Converting two third down opportunities, including a 23-yard completion from Cody Hawkins to Josh Smith on a third-and-11 from the CU 16-yard line, the Buffs cashed in when Hawkins connected with Smith again, this time for a 38-yard score just 2:46 into the contest.

On the third play of the Mountaineers’ opening possession, West Virginia quarterback Pat White completed a pass to Bradley Starks, who fumbled at the WVU 28-yard line. The fumble, caused by defensive tackle Brandon Nicholas and recovered by defensive end Maurice Lucas, sent all but 4,000 of the 51,883 in attendance for the Thursday night "Blackout" game into a frenzy.

It took only five plays for the Buffs to score again, with Hawkins hitting tight end Patrick Devenny for a 13-yard touchdown. Devenny’s catch, a fine over-the-shoulder grab with a defender right on him, gave the Buffs a 14-0 lead with 10:10 still remaining in the first quarter.

West Virginia, which averaged almost 40 points per game in 2007, would not go quietly. It took the Mountaineers only five plays to answer, with Pat White scoring from six yards out to pull WVU to within a touchdown at 14-7. Less than half of the first quarter had been played, and the game had all the markings of an old WAC shootout.

Then it got quiet.

At least on the scoreboard.

Colorado had opportunities throughout the first half to put up additional points, but none were scored. In their next four possessions, the Buffs pushed the ball to midfield, the CU 47-yard line, the Mountaineers’ 30-yard line, and the Mountaineers’ 16-yard line, but came away with no points.

The two most promising drives ended with turnovers by CU quarterback Cody Hawkins. Midway through the second quarter, Hawkins was intercepted by WVU linebacker Reed Williams, and on the next Colorado possession, Hawkins was sacked at the Mountaineer 24-yard line, fumbling the ball back to West Virginia.

(Odd trivia here: CU has turned the ball over six times so far in 2008—all six turnovers have come in the second quarter.)

The Buffs had one last chance to score before halftime, but a sure interception for a touchdown was dropped by cornerback Cha’pelle Brown with just over a minute to play.

Fortunately for CU and their fans, the Mountaineers were also unable to score, and the game stood at 14-7 at halftime.

In the third quarter, an air of inevitability hung over Folsom Field like a dark cloud, as the Colorado offense went three-and-out in its first three possessions, while the West Virginia offense slowly took control. The game was tied late in the third quarter on a 39-yard gallop by Pat White, who would finish with 148 yards rushing on the evening.

Twice in the fourth quarter, Colorado pushed the ball into West Virginia territory. Twice in the fourth quarter, West Virginia pushed the ball into Colorado territory. Neither team, though, was able to get close enough for a field goal attempt, and regulation ended with Pat White heaving a pass towards the CU end zone after the Mountaineers had driven as far as the Colorado 48-yard line.

In overtime, the Buffs won the toss of the coin, opting to go on defense. West Virginia, which posted 311 yards rushing for the game but only 43 yards passing, kept the ball on the ground.

Aided by a four-yard run by White on 3rd-and-2 at the CU 17-yard line to keep the drive alive, the Mountaineers faced a 3rd-and-1 at the CU four. Jock Sanders got the call, but linebackers Jeff Smart and Brad Jones stopped Sanders for a two-yard loss, setting up Pat McAfee for a 23-yard field goal attempt.

McAfee, set up on the left hashmark, hit the ball straight into the left upright, giving Colorado new life.

Needing only a field goal to win, the Buffs’ overtime possession was conservative but effective. Four rushes, two by Rodney Stewart and two by Darrell Scott, set up the Buffs with a 3rd-and-2 at the Mountaineer seven-yard line. Lined up near the middle of the field, Aric Goodman was true, giving the Buffs their second win over a ranked team in the Dan Hawkins’ era (both coming with 0:00 showing on the game clock).

"That was unbelievable and a great thing to be a part of right there," said Dan Hawkins after the game. "The longer the game went on, the better I felt our chances were. It was a good game against a good team. Give our guys credit for hanging in there and showing character."

In defeating a ranked team, there are always good stories. Freshman running back Rodney Stewart was one of the feel good stories of the night. Stewart’s 166 yards rushing on 28 carries netted Stewart the third-highest total for a freshman in CU history (Billy Waddy had 202 yards against Wisconsin in 1973; Lamont Warren had 168 yards against Iowa State in 1991).

"I just figured out the defensive game plan and I was figuring out where the holes were," said Stewart, "and luckily I was getting the yards."

The other uplifting story was that of Aric Goodman. Goodman, as a freshman kicker for Wyoming in 2006, missed an extra point in overtime that cost the Cowboys in a loss to Virginia. This time, however, the overtime kick was true.

"Mentally, knowing that I have a chance to go out there and have fun was important," said Goodman. "I just went out there and went through my check list and hit it. Fortunately, it went through."

Still, there remained question marks for the Buffs. True, Colorado was 3-0 and sniffing the Top 25 for the first time since November 2005.

It was also true that the CU offense was shut out for the last 55 minutes of regulation. It was also true that the Buff rush defense, ranked 11th in the nation coming into the game, gave up 311 yards rushing to West Virginia (at a 6.0 yards/carry average).

It was also true that the West Virginia game was just the first game in a six-game gauntlet that has Colorado facing five ranked teams.

"We’re definitely going in the right direction, and I think we’re getting really, really, really close" said Dan Hawkins of his 3-0 Buffs. "No one wants to be close, but if this group keeps hanging together and doing things right, we’ll have some things to say by the end of the season."

The Buffs now have the luxury of sitting back and watching as their next opponent, 24th-ranked Florida State, plays its first real game of the season against 18th-ranked Wake Forest. Then it will be on to Jacksonville for a "neutral site" game which will be anything but neutral.

The undefeated Buffs didn’t care. Their job for the week was done.

Bring on the next mountain to climb.

 

Rocky Mountain High

It’s time I make an admission.

Some of you have been with me from the beginning; some of you have signed on more recently.

It’s only fair that I come out of the closet.

Wow—this is hard...

Okay—here goes...

I am a Mountaineer.

There. I said it. I am a Mountaineer.

Yes, I am a native Montanan. I have only lived in Montana and Colorado, but my family’s roots are in West Virginia. Both of my parents are from West Virginia, and both attended WVU. My grandfather (Mom’s side) taught at West Virginia for over 30 years.

I have been to Morgantown a number of times. I have set foot in the old stadium on campus and taken the monorail out to the new stadium outside of town ("new" being a relative term—the stadium opened in 1979).

John Denver’s "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was played so often in our household in the early '70s it may have well have been our family’s theme song.

So was I conflicted Thursday night?

Not a chance.

I have been known to cheer for West Virginia (and will again, after we play the rematch in Morgantown next September), but there was no way I could pull for the old gold and blue on "Blackout" night at Folsom.

I lived and died along with the other CU faithful in the stands as the Buffs showed in the first five minutes how close to greatness this team really is, then proceeded to taunt us with their youth and inexperience for the next 55 minutes.

Still, the feeling was electric all night. A quick start gave Folsom a buzz the entire evening. Unlike the Oklahoma game, when the Buffs never led until the clock struck 0:00, against West Virginia the Buffs never trailed.

There was almost an air of expectation in the crowd: This is our time. This is our moment. Greetings, college football world—we’re back!

Dan Hawkins spoke for most of us when, at the postgame press conference, he said: "I took several times during the game to look around at the pageantry. I kept thinking how blessed I was to be out there—everyone was in black, everyone was fired up, we’re under the lights. I said, ‘This is awesome!’ It’s great to be a part of and enjoy it."

I did take it in. I did enjoy it.

Two images are seared into my brain. The first is watching with disbelief as the West Virginia kicker’s field goal attempt "boinked" off the left upright in the north end zone.

The second is from just a moment later, as I scanned the sea of black which was the student section, writhing and flowing like a single organism, completely absorbed in the joy of the moment as the opportunity for victory presented itself to the underdog Buffs.

I could go on, but you have your own day to get to, and your own memories to savor. For me, with the long weekend afforded by the Thursday night game, I am off to South Park and the small town of Jefferson to visit my Dad.

A 35-year resident of Colorado, he has long since moved on from his days in Morgantown, but he remains a Mountaineer.

So, if you’ll excuse me. I have some gloating to do...

For more on CU football, log on to http://www.cuatthegame.com.

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