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By: Associated Press
Senior Rodney Stewart dives into the corner of the endzone for the game's first score.
Brooks: Buffs Do What It Takes For Windy Pac-12 'W'
Release: November 12, 2011
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor

BOULDER - With wind gusts nudging 70 mph, Saturday was a treacherous day for high-profile vehicles in the Rocky Mountain foothills. High-profile quarterbacks didn't fare so well either.

The 13 NFL scouts at Folsom Field - a number that included Denver's John Elway - might or might not have seen what they had intended from Arizona QB Nick Foles, the Pac-12's leader in passing yards per game (361.7) and total offense (349.8).

Foles' forte is the long ball, and Saturday was not a good day for that; the longest of his 35 completions was 24 yards. On the other hand, he did throw for 300-plus yards for the 16th time in his career. But, being Senior Day for Colorado and being the seniors' final chance to avoid becoming a horrific historical footnote at Folsom, it was not a good day to oppose the Buffaloes.

When the day was done, the Buffs' 28 seniors had earned a rare right this season and were in fine voice in bellowing the school's fight song for the first time since mid-September. First-year CU coach Jon Embree at first said his team's 48-29 win "wasn't pretty," but he quickly amended himself and added, "But actually I think it was pretty."

In mid-November of a one-win season, how could it not be anything but gorgeous? Aesthetically, Embree was right, but aesthetics went by the wayside during the seven-game losing streak that ended on Senior Day, earning the Buffs their first Pac-12 Conference win and a second "brick" on the wall outside their locker room in the Dal Ward Athletic Center.

At a podium with his first CU senior class - all still in uniform - spread behind him, Embree called it "a great win, a great win for our program." It was a different post-game scene and setting, but this was a different day for a Buffs senior class that has been beaten up but was rarely beaten down.

"It's important for these guys; it's their senior year, their last game at home," Embree continued. "It's important for them. They deserve better than what we're going to end up getting, but we're still going to achieve some things. So it's for them."

Because the afternoon belonged to the upperclassmen, Embree brought all of them to the usual post-game press conference. "It's about them," he said. "I'm proud of these guys, I love them. Two more games . . . next for us is that road losing streak, and we're going to end it, we're going to end it."

The Buffs haven't won on the road since 2007, a 23-game out-of-state losing streak the seniors don't want to hand off to the underclassmen. Two chances remain for them to unburden themselves - next Saturday at UCLA and Friday, Nov. 25 at Utah.

And senior quarterback Tyler Hansen went so far as to make a bold prediction: "We were not losing this game (Saturday), no way. And we're not going to lose on the road, I guarantee. We're going to the Rose Bowl and we're going to get it done . . . we're going to send these underclassmen off with a three-game winning streak, that's our goal. We're going to do everything we can to get that done."

Of Saturday's ferocious winds, Embree said, "We weren't going to make it an issue; we were just going to do our stuff. The only place (it affected CU) was in the kicking game, but it caused some issues on both sides."

CU junior safety Ray Polk called Foles, who has a school-record 9,573 career passing yards, "a good quarterback, so he's able to adjust to that (wind). But it was hard on both teams with the wind."

Embree's scouting report on Foles centered on the 6-5 senior's feathery touch in throwing the long ball. But although Foles threw for 352 yards, the Buffs intercepted him three times (Jason Espinoza, Greg Henderson, Travis Sandersfeld) and sacked him twice (Sandersfeld, Josh Hartigan).

A senior from Limon, Sandersfeld's final game in Folsom was a monster. In addition to his interception and sack, he made a game-high 11 tackles (10 solo), with three tackles for losses. It was a fitting conclusion to a home season that saw him play in three of the Buffs' five home games because of a foot injury.

"It's been a rough road and it (was) Senior Day, our last home game," Sandersfeld said. "After the game I was telling everybody it feels so great to get this win. We've had some big highlights in our careers, but this one rates one of the top with all the work we put into it.

"We could have easily quit, but we still have drive and passion to come out and get this three-game winning streak and send the underclassmen off right."

That goal has flipped; last week, it was the underclassmen pushing to send the seniors "off right." Now, it's the upperclassmen looking to the future and the well-being of the younger players in their final two games. There's an undeniable camaraderie on this team that came through loud and clear as the seniors laughed and joked with one another behind Embree at the post-game podium.

Polk, one of four Buffs to finish with six tackles behind Sandersfeld, called Saturday's win "a great building block for this program, and I'm so happy were able to get the seniors a win like this before they went out . . . If we played like this every game our record could be totally different, I mean, who knows?"

CU's only certainties at the moment are season that shows a pair of wins and a schedule that shows a pair of remaining road games. Embree and everyone else would have liked more than two 'W's with two games left, but that's what's left.

But as unlikely as it seems to outsiders, winning out is not seen as an outside possibility in the CU locker room. If the Buffs can accomplish the improbable, momentum from Embree's first season will be carried into his second.

"The morale on this team feels completely different now," Polk said. "We know we can get a win over a Pac-12 team now . . . we just need to put it on the road."

That's the only proving ground left for the Buffs, but Saturday's win proved to them that they're capable.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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