In the final Rocky Mountain Showdown at Mile High Stadium in Denver, head coach Mel Tucker began his career at the University of Colorado on the winning side of history, defeating the Colorado State Rams 52-31. The game marked Colorado’s fifth consecutive showdown win over CSU.
The Buffs’ victory improves their record to 67-22-2 all-time against CSU, a mark they’ll look to improve next year in Fort Collins. Colorado’s ground game stole the show with sophomore tailback Alex Fontenot rushing for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
It was a tale of two halves for Colorado. The game began inauspiciously with a 1-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Steven Montez to senior Jalen Harris, but CSU answered back. A 39-yard touchdown pass from CSU’s junior quarterback Colin Hill tied the game at 7-7.
The back and forth trend continued with CSU retaliating after every CU score. Graduate student safety Mikial Onu made the play of the first half with an interception in the Rams end zone with the game still tied at 7. Onu picked off Hill once more in the third quarter and was a bright spot for a Buffs’ secondary that struggled during the first half.
“Obviously, you can see why we made it a point to bring (Onu) here,” Tucker said. “He’s a good player, we got good production from him tonight, and I was proud of his effort.”
CSU accumulated 282 total yards in the first half, 19 more than Colorado. The disparity forced Tucker to make a few halftime “adjustments.”
“We talked about it and said it’s going to be a four-quarter game,” Tucker said. “I told the players to expect the game to come down to the last possession. We’re going to have to play 60 minutes. But we’re built for this.”
And CU excelled in its turnover battle when it came to defense. The Buffs’ forced four turnovers on the night, which led to a few key possessions and scores. In a game as emotional as the Rocky Mountain Showdown, flipping the momentum is huge and the Buffs took full advantage.
“We do talk about the turnover ratio, taking care of the ball and taking the ball away,” Tucker said. “If you’re plus two, you win 70%. If you’re plus three, you win 80%. If you score on defense you win 90% of the games.”
Although CSU led in total yards at half-time, CU still headed to the locker room with a 24-21 lead.
“You look up and see the crowd and they’re wild and that’s something I never got to experience fully. What (Tucker) is telling us is true. We bought in and the results are paying off.”
Alex Fontenot, sophomore tailback
To begin the second half, quite literally, the Buffs stole the momentum. CSU’s first play was disrupted by junior safety Aaron Maddox, who forced a fumble and gave the Buffs back the ball. Two plays later, Fontenot brought the Buffs home with his second touchdown of the game.
Colorado held tightly to the lead. Aided by yet another touchdown by Fontenot and a late-game defensive score, the Buffs won the Centennial Cup, 52-31. The 83 combined points were the most all-time in the series.
“Winning is good, you definitely want to stay in the left-hand side of that column as much as possible,” said Tucker, reflecting on his first win as Buffaloes head coach. “It was very gratifying, not so much for me, but for the team, the players, and the coaches. All of the hard work that has been put in, the belief in me, our coaching staff, and our process… then to go out and compete, and come out with a win, which wasn’t an easy win, it was very gratifying.”
Colorado looks to win another rivalry next week in Boulder against Nebraska. Kickoff for the highly anticipated game will be at 1:30 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Jack Carlough at firstname.lastname@example.org.