(Neill Woelk has been one the most honored and respected sports journalists in Colorado and the West for the past 35 years. The 1982 graduate of the University of Colorado was a long-time columnist, then sports editor, of The Boulder Camera and later was an editor-writer for newspapers in Oregon and Utah. He returned to his alma mater recently as senior contributing editor for cubuffs.com. He has covered The Rocky Mountain Showdown since its inception. @neilwoelk)
By Neill Woelk
BOULDER — Friday night’s Colorado-Colorado State game at Sports Authority Field (6 p.m., ESPN) will mark the 16th time the two teams have met in Denver.
There have been blowouts, big plays, fantastic finishes and even a pair of overtime games (both won by the Buffs). Colorado currently holds a 9-6 edge in games in Denver.
But the total number of games in Denver isn’t scheduled to reach 20. The in-state rivals will play again in Denver the next three years, with the final game in the current contract scheduled to be played in Fort Collins in 2020.
And, while there is a strong likelihood that the two programs will play again as soon as 2023, Colorado athletic director Rick George has made it clear he any future games will be on-campus affairs.
Thus, with the series in the Mile High City inching ever closer to an end, here’s a look at our top five CU games in Denver:
Sept. 5, 1998: A capacity crowd of 76,036 at old Mile High Stadium watched Rick Neuheisel’s Buffs roll to a 42-14 win in the first-ever game in Denver between the two schools. In his starting debut, CU quarterback Mike Moschetti completed 21 of 32 attempts for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Six of those passes, by the way — including the last touchdown of the game — went to wide receiver Darrin Chiaverini, who will be on the sidelines Friday night as CU’s co-offensive coordinator. Dwayne Cherrington led the Buffs with 100 yards rushing and Rashidi Barnes had a team-high 13 tackles.
The game also marked the first time the Buffs were not ranked in the preseason poll since 1998 while the Rams opened as the No. 15 team in the country. It would be the first of two times an unranked CU team would knock off a ranked CSU squad in Denver.
Sept. 1, 2001 — While it wasn’t the season opener, the game nevertheless proved to be an extremely pivotal moment. One week after falling at home to Fresno State in the opener, Gary Barnett’s unranked Buffs bounced back in a big way for a 41-14 win over the No. 24 Rams.
In a game expected to be much closer, the Buffs took a 14-7 lead after the first quarter, stretched it to 17-7 lead by the half, then blew the game open with two more touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 31-7 lead into the final period.
While CU’s Donald Strickland set the tone by returning an interception for a touchdown in the first minute of play, the difference over the course of the game was CU’s punishing ground game. The Buffs finished with 315 yards rushing, led by 191 yards and one touchdown from Bobby Purify and 121 yards and two touchdowns from Chris Brown. And, after attempting 51 passes the week prior, the Buffs threw just 19 times for 95 yards.
The win put the Buffs back on a winning track in a season that would ultimately produce a 62-36 win over Nebraska, a Big 12 Championship game win over Texas and a Fiesta Bowl berth against Oregon.
Aug. 30, 2003 — In a game dubbed an “instant classic” by ESPN, Buffs quarterback Joel Klatt threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns in a wild 42-35 CU win that included a driving rainstorm, a thunderous lightning display and an Invesco Field crowd of 76,219 — still the largest crowd ever for a CU-CSU game.
Along with Klatt’s 402 yards passing, the game also featured a 339-yard passing effort from Bradlee Van Pelt, seven scoring plays of 30 yards or longer — including touchdown passes of 82 and 78 yards from Klatt to Derek McCoy, the latter of which featured a brilliant bolt of lightning just as Klatt threw the ball — and a last-minute scoring drive from the Buffs that provided the margin of victory.
After CSU had tied the game at 35-35 with 1:50 remaining, Klatt drove the Buffaloes 75 yards in six plays for the winning score. He completed all four pass attempts on the drive, including a 25-yarder to McCoy and a 33-yarder down the right sidelines to Jeremy Bloom. That gave the Buffs a first-and-goal at the CSU 4, and after a penalty pushed the Buffs back to the 9-yard line, Purify rolled into the end zone with the winning touchdown.
Klatt, now the lead college football analyst for Fox Sports, has called the win perhaps the most gratifying of his career.
Sept. 1, 2013 — Mike MacIntyre made his debut as Colorado’s head coach a successful one. With a 41-27 win over the Rams to open the 2013 season, MacIntyre became just the second head coach since 1932 to win his first game with the Buffs, joining Rick Neuheisel in 1995 as the only pair to do so among the 15 different coached to lead the program in that time frame.
Offensively, the Buffs got their boost from quarterback Connor Wood, wide receiver Paul Richardson and kicker Will Oliver. Wood completed 33-of-46 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the TD passes – 82 and 75 yards – went to Richardson, while Oliver kicked field goals of 22, 41, 44 and 52 yards.
Defensively, it was cornerback Greg Henderson who delivered a big punch. With CU clinging to a 26-24 lead early in the fourth quarter, Henderson scooped up a fumble and ran 53 yards to the end zone, giving the Buffs a 33-24 cushion. The Rams kicked a field goal to pull within six, 33-27, but Wood then connected with P-Rich on a 75-yard touchdown pass to salt the win away.
(Tie: In the 87-game history of the series, there have been just two overtime affairs. Both were played in Denver, and both were won by Colorado. We can’t separate the two, so we’ll let you pick No. 5.)
Sept. 1, 2007 — For the second time in three years, the Buffs rallied from 11 points down to collect a 31-28 win — but this one came in the first overtime game in series history.
The Buffs led 17-14 at the half but the Rams scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 28-17 edge five minutes into the second quarter. But after that, CU’s defense took charge, holding the Rams to just five first downs and 79 yards on their last six possessions. Colorado pulled to within three on a Demetrius Sumler 3-yard run and ensuing 2-point conversion, then tied the game on a 22-yard Kevin Eberhart field with with 13 seconds left in regulation.
CSU had the ball first in overtime, but Terrance Wheatley snuffed the possession with an interception in the end zone. Three plays later, Eberhart kicked the 35-yard game winner.
Cody Hawkins threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns while Scotty McKnight had eight catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Sept. 19, 2015 — Once again, the Buffs were forced to come from behind, this time erasing a 14-0 first quarter CSU lead.
Colorado closed the gap to 14-10 by halftime, getting a Diego Gonzalez field goal and a 65-yard scoring pass from Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields. Early in the third quarter, CU finally took the lead when Liufau connected with Devin Ross from 24 yards out.
The Rams, however, tied the game with a Wyatt Bryan field goal before another big defensive play gave the Buffs the lead. CU linebacker Rick Gamboa delivered a vicious hit on CSU running back Dalyn Dawkins just as a pass arrived in Dawkins’ arms, and the ball popped into the air. Colorado linebacker Kenneth Olugbode — celebrating his 20th birthday — snatched the ball and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown.
That lead held until late in the fourth quarter, when CSU drove 75 yards for the tying touchdown. A last-gasp CU march then came up short when Gonzalez missed from 48 yards out, sending the game into overtime.
Just like the first overtime game in the series, CSU had the ball first — and again, a big CU play sent the Rams offense back to the sidelines without a score. This time, it was CU safety Tedric Thompson, whose perfectly timed leap blocked a Bryan field goal attempt.
Given a second chance to win the game, Gonzalez then calmly booted a 32-yard game winner.
Liufau finished with 220 yards and two touchdowns passing while Nelson Spruce had six catches for 63 yards and Fields added three for 79 as MacIntyre improved his record to 2-1 vs. the Rams.
TICKET NOTE: As of the end of the business day Wednesday, CU had sold 31,789 tickets, including 7,590 student tickets. With two business days remaining, Colorado is a mere seven overall tickets short of last year’s total sale for the game (31,796) while having already surpassed last year’s student ticket total (7,145).
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