The University of Colorado football team, after facing a 17-0 halftime deficit to No. 25 University of Nebraska, fought back to win 34-31 in overtime Saturday — tying as the fourth-largest comeback in CU history.
It marked the first time since 2009 that Colorado faced the Cornhuskers on their own turf. After the Buffs claimed an away victory in Lincoln last year, the guys in red were back for revenge. Though Nebraska presented a worthy challenge, CU turned the tables in the second quarter, securing their second win of the season.
Colorado senior quarterback Steven Montez made history with his 375 yards and two touchdown passes. Montez officially moved into second place on the CU all-time passing leader list. He now has 7,448 yards, passing both Cody Hawkins (7,409) and Joel Klatt (7,375). Montez is now only behind Sefo Liufau who has 9,568 career passing yards.
As the opening kick went airborne, the noise was deafening with a sold-out crowd of 52,829. The Buffs first drive got off to a shaky start, receiving back-to-back defensive penalties that pushed them to their own ten-yard line. CU got bailed out with a defensive personal foul that gave them a first down and kept the drive alive though they stalled out around the 50-yard line and punted with 7:42 left in the quarter.
Once the ball was there’s, Nebraska wasted no time, quickly running a few plays before sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez unloaded a deep bomb to receiver JD Spielman for a 65-yard touchdown. The drive went 96 yards on five plays in just 1:40.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Nebraska was driving again and looking for their second touchdown. However, Colorado graduate safety Mikial Onu helped steal the ball back from Martinez allowing CU to recover around midfield with 27 seconds left in the first quarter.
“I think whether you’re home or away turnovers is a stat that means a lot,” Martinez said. “It could be the tell of the game. It’s something I have to do a better job of, and the offense needs to do a better job of.”
CU senior Alex Kinney, for the second time of the game, punted the ball within the opposing five-yard line. The deep punt, just like the first, didn’t stop Nebraska as they marched down and scored their second touchdown, leaving the score 14-0.
The touchdown was a designed quarterback run that had Martinez take the ball around defense and dance in near the pylon. The scoring drive went 95 yards on 13 plays and took 6:53. While CU stopped Nebraska’s drive and the Cornhuskers punted, unfortunately for Colorado fans, the Buffs roughed the kicker which resulted in a Nebraska first down and later a touchdown.
And the Buffaloes’ woes continued as CU quarterback Steven Montez threw an interception at midfield and gave the ball back to the Cornhuskers. Nebraska took advantage of their field positioning and managed to punch in a field goal before the end of the half to make the score 17-0. But Colorado was far from finished.
“My message to the team (at halftime) was that they gave us their best shot and we hadn’t even scratched the surface of what we could do on either side of the ball,” said Colorado head coach Mel Tucker.
And players agreed that they knew the second half would be different.
“I mean, we just kind of got it together,” Montez said when asked about halftime adjustments. “We all kind of just calmed down and started to play outside ourselves. We just took the coaching we were getting on the sideline and applied it and good things happened for us.”
“We stayed together,” said junior defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson. “We stayed positive and kept pushing each other, we knew we weren’t going to quit, we were going to fight this game to the very end, and that’s how it came out.”
The offense in the second half began slowly for both teams until the last minutes of the third quarter when Colorado finally secured their first touchdown. Freshman running back Jaren Mangham got the carry and scored from 11 yards out to end the shutout and make it a two-score game: 17-7. The scoring drive went 64 yards on eight plays and took just 2:24.
“We hadn’t even scratched the surface of what we could do on either side of the ball.”
Mel Tucker, CU football head coach
After quickly stopping Nebraska’s drive, CU attempted a flea-flicker. Montez heaved the ball downfield to the wide-open junior wide receiver K.D. Nixon. Nixon broke away from one last defender with 40 yards of open grass in front of him making the score 17-14. The 96-yard touchdown broke Colorado football history as the longest play from scrimmage ever.
“That just took guts to even call that on our own five,” Montez said. “We got the exact coverage we wanted.”
But the Buffs couldn’t celebrate for long, with the next play of the game being a 75-yard touchdown for Nebraska. Sophomore Maurice Washington caught a pass near the sideline, turned on the jets and never looked back making the score 24-14 with 14:09 left in the fourth quarter.
“Maurice played well, obviously had some big plays,” said Nebraska head coach Scott Frost.
But for the Buffs, things began to heat up. Colorado continued to press Nebraska’s defense and quickly moved the ball downfield. Sophomore wide receiver Jaylon Jackson caught a pass and took it for 57 yards deep into Cornhusker territory. Soon after, Mangham banged in another touchdown making the score 24-21 with 12:19 still left on the clock.
The home crowd was worked into a frenzy as the Buffs pulled within three points. Excitement continued as Mustafa Johnson forced a fumble and got CU the ball back just outside the red zone. The Buffs would end up settling for a field goal from junior kicker James Stefanou to tie the game at 24 with just over eight minutes left on the clock.
Nebraska answered by working their way back into Colorado’s red zone. CU made a stop within the ten-yard line to force a fourth down, but Nebraska’s Martinez powerfully rushed it into the endzone for a touchdown, making the score 31-24 with 5:40 left.
“We knew we weren’t going to quit, we were going to fight this game to the very end, and that’s how it came out.”
Mustafa Johnson, junior defensive tackle
Colorado only had one option left on their next drive: score a touchdown. After a speedy drive downfield, Montez delivered a dime over the shoulder of senior wide receiver Tony Brown in the back-right corner of the end-zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass with just 46 seconds left on the clock and ultimately ending the fourth quarter at a 31 tie.
“Tony (Brown has) been running those go-balls in fall camp every single day, running them to perfection,” Montez said. “They were bracketing our inside receivers so I knew I had a one-on-one with Tony Brown in the corner and I knew if I gave him a good enough ball he would come down with it.”
The Buffs got the ball first in overtime and after a few attempts at the end-zone, settled for a field goal. All the attention then shifted to defense. CU got a huge sack from Mustafa Johnson that pushed Nebraska to the edge of field goal range. But the Nebraska kicker couldn’t connect from 48-yards out and missed to the right of the goalpost. Colorado fans stormed the field as CU claimed victory 34-31.
The last time these two teams met at Folsom Field, Nebraska walked away with a win. This time around, Tucker’s Buffaloes made sure to finish what they started.
“That was a big game and that was a big win,” Tucker said. “I think everybody knows that. We share it with our fans. We had a lot of support out there today. It’s an opportunity for our players and coaches to be able to share in this moment with our students and with our fans. It was special for us.”
Colorado will play again at home next Saturday against Air Force with kickoff at 11 a.m. MST.
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