BOULDER - Todd Reesing's curse over Colorado has been lifted. And the heaviest of the Buffaloes' lifting was done by their smallest defensive player.
Cornerback Cha'pelle Brown, a 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior, batted down a Reesing pass in the end zone on the game's final play, preserving a 34-30 CU victory over previously unbeaten No. 17 Kansas Saturday night at Folsom Field.
Reesing, the Jayhawks' gifted senior quarterback, had directed three consecutive wins over the Buffs. One more would have accomplished a KU first: Since the series began in 1903, the Jayhawks had never beaten the Buffs four consecutive times.
"He's been like a thorn . . . we couldn't get him out," CU nickel back Jalil Brown said of Reesing.
But Saturday night, the thorn was removed. One small deflection by Cha'pelle Brown was transformed into one potentially giant leap for the Buffs, who couldn't have been more desperate for a win.
"I thought about picking it off . . . but I knew all I had to do was knock it to the ground," Cha'pelle Brown said of the Reesing pass intended for Dezmon Briscoe. "That's all we needed."
It was all the Buffs needed to snap a two-game losing streak, win their first Big 12 Conference game of the season and perhaps quiet some of the criticism of Dan Hawkins' program.
"I'm happy for our guys," Hawkins said. "It's about digging in on the process and continuing to improve . . . . We have to know how to handle a victory; you take it in and enjoy it.
"But after tomorrow, it's over. You have to move on to the next one - that's how it has to be."
The "next one" comes next Saturday at Kansas State (10:30 a.m. MDT), and if CU (2-4, 1-1) can put together a modest two-game winning streak, it can strengthen their case in the Big 12 North Division. But the Buffs face another road challenge; they haven't won away from Folsom Field since midway through the 2007 season (2-15 in Hawkins' tenure).
Before Brown's pivotal final play in the end zone, fellow corner Jimmy Smith made another on KU's previous series. On fourth-and-goal at the Buffs' 6-yard line, Smith broke up another Reesing pass intended for Briscoe, who finished with eight catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.
CU's defense held KU (5-1, 1-1) to minus-8 yards rushing, but surrendered 431 passing yards to Reesing (30-of-51, 401 yards, two TDs, one interception).
CU's offense also stepped up when needed. After Reesing had driven the Jayhawks 58 yards early in the fourth quarter for a 30-27 lead, sophomore Tyler Hansen, making his 2009 debut as the Buffs' starting quarterback, answered with a 76-yard march to push CU back in front 34-30.
The stage was set for Jimmy Smith, Cha'pelle Brown and their buds to Buff up and save the night.
After making plays with his feet (11 carries, 64 yards - but 34 after sack yardage) and his arm (14-for-25, 175 yards, one TD, one interception), Hansen said, "We didn't play perfect on offense; we had turnovers and we didn't convert some third downs.
"We have to clean that up . . . . This feels good, but we have to move on and beat the Wildcats."
Hansen called the win "huge . . . It's a big win against a Top 20 team. Kansas has had our number the past three years, so they're a big target on our schedule.
"It builds momentum. Our schedule looks pretty good right now. We're confident that maybe we can get some 'W's during the next couple of weeks."
CU rushed for 147 yards - 108 of them on Rodney Stewart's 24 carries. He scored two touchdowns, including the decisive one in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard run.
Said Hawkins: "If you keep feeding the ball to 'Speedy,' a lot of good things are going to happen."
KU took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, scoring the game's first points on a 37-yard field goal by Jacob Branstetter. Both offenses struggled early, going three-and-out on each of their first two possessions.
But CU finally got untracked under Hansen, fashioning a 45-yard drive, and on the first play of the second quarter, CU's Aric Goodman, kicking despite an abdominal strain, hit a 45-yarder to tie the score.
Goodman hardly had time to get settled on the sidelines before he was summoned again. On KU's second play after Goodman's kickoff sailed deep into the end zone, the scrambling Reesing had the football knocked from his grasp when he ran into offensive tackle Jeff Spikes.
Buffs defensive tackle Will Pericak recovered at the Jayhawks' 3-yard line, and one play later Stewart scored. Goodman's PAT gave CU a 10-3 lead with 14:31 left before halftime.
Just under 8 minutes later, after forcing another KU punt, CU's lead swelled to 17-3 after Hansen directed an eight-play, 79-yard drive.
The big plays: a 20-yard scramble by Hansen, a 36-yard Hansen to Markques Simas completion, and a 12-yard scoring pass from Hansen to tight end Riar Geer, who scooped up a low Hansen pass over the middle and turned it into a 12-yard scoring play.
With the CU student section chanting "Ty-ler Han-sen, Ty-ler Hansen," Goodman drilled the PAT - and the Buffs were just getting started.
Hansen made his first mistake of the night, throwing an interception to safety Darrell Stuckey, but Jalil Brown had his QB's back.
Three plays after Stuckey's theft, Brown picked off Reesing and returned it 35 yards to the KU 1-yard line, where Reesing saved the touchdown - for two plays. It was Brown's second interception in as many games.
"I should have scored," Brown said. "It was a great call by the coaches to put me in position to make a play."
Hansen went over right tackle for the touchdown, Goodman kicked the extra point and CU led 24-3 with 2:24 before intermission.
But that was more than enough time for Reesing to execute a textbook 2-minute drill. In an 11-play, 80-yard march, he completed seven-of-nine passes for 86 yards (KU was penalized 10 yards for holding during the drive), including a 4-yard TD pass to Kerry Meier with 11 seconds left in the quarter.
After Branstetter's PAT, KU trailed 24-10, and had given itself a shot of momentum. A shoot out was looming.
The Buffs outgained the Jayhawks 167-140 in the opening half, with Hansen accounting for 130 of CU's total yardage (97 passing, 33 rushing) and two scores.
CU took the second-half kickoff, positioned Goodman for a 39-yard field goal and increased its lead to 27-10. But no one at Folsom Field dared believe KU and Reesing were ready to roll over.
And the Jayhawks weren't. Reesing and his offense put together another 80-yard drive, capped by 235-pound freshman Toben Opurum's 2-yard dive.
With Branstetter's PAT, KU crept to 27-17, and eight plays after defensive tackle Richard Johnson recovered a Stewart fumble at the CU 41, Branstetter hit a 43-yard field goal to cut the Buffs' lead to 27-20.
CU's next possession was as disastrous as the previous one - and once again Branstetter was the beneficiary. Four plays after a Hansen fumble was recovered by KU nickel back Ryan Murphy at the Buffs 24, Branstetter drilled a 42-yarder.
It was CU 27, KU 23 - and the Buffs were gasping as the third quarter trickled away.
On the first play of the final quarter, CU needed a first down on third-and-five to keep Reesing and his offense sidelined. Hansen scrambled long enough to spy tailback Demetrius Sumler in the open after making a route adjustment - but Sumler dropped the pass.
Bad mistake . . . Following CU's punt, Reesing capped a 58-yard drive with a 25-yard TD pass to Briscoe, giving KU a 30-27 lead after Branstetter's extra point.
With 13:02 to play, the Jayhawks had outscored the Buffs 20-3 since intermission, and a once-promising night appeared to be slipping away from CU.
Hansen & Co. weren't close to being finished, though. After a 10-play, 76-yard march, the Buffs reclaimed the lead (34-30) on a 13-yard Stewart run and Goodman's PAT. The drive's big play was a Hansen-to-Geer pass for 29 yards on third-and-15.
But 8:36 remained - an eternity for KU and Reesing, who converted a third-and-29 with a 41-yard pass to Briscoe. But on fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Reesing's pass for Briscoe was broken up in the end zone by Smith.
CU took over on downs with 4:21 left, needing to hold onto the ball, run the clock and keep Reesing off the field. The Buffs offense couldn't do it, but the defense was about to step up.
Taking over with 59 seconds left on his own 25, Reesing pushed his team to the Buffs 19-yard line, where fortunately with :03 to play, Cha'pelle Brown was waiting to poke the ball away from Briscoe in the end zone.
Afterwards, thousands of CU students and fans rushed the field.
"The fans here have been really great," Hawkins said. "I said that from the first year, even though there weren't a lot of wins . . . . For them to show us and support us like that is huge."
BUFF BITS: Saturday night's attendance was 51,146 . . . . Ryan Miller moved back to right tackle, starting in place of Bryce Givens. Blake Behrens started at right guard, but shared time with Matt Bahr. . . . Keenan Stevens made his third consecutive start at center in place of Mike Iltis . . . . Goodman's 45-yard field goal in the second quarter was close to a milestone for the junior from Cherry Creek; it was his first make from 40-49 yards in nine career attempts . . . . CU's 24 second-quarter points were its most in a single quarter since scoring 28 in the second quarter of a 42-35 win against Colorado State in 2003 . . . . Junior receiver Scotty McKnight ran his school-record reception streak to 30 consecutive games.