BOULDER - In a season when good times have been on the south side of scarce for the Colorado Buffaloes, the past week had "downer" stamped on it in bold, black lettering.
Or was that "powder blue" lettering?
By the time Saturday dawned, the Buffs had seen one of their highest-profile players pull out and some in their fan base change colors, resorting to wearing light blue apparel - CU's shade of jersey preference in the inglorious final year (1981) of the Chuck Fairbanks era - to protest a season slipping away.
Of the 47,227 in attendance at Folsom Field, maybe a couple of hundred donned blue.
"Real Buffs wear Black and Gold," said embattled CU coach Dan Hawkins.
"All of it definitely brought us together, it definitely did," junior tailback Demetrius Sumler said. "There's no self-destruct on this team, no quit in any of these guys. We're one . . . we're turning negativity into positivity."
For one delirious November afternoon in Folsom Field, the Buffs bought into the transformation, rallying in the final 2 minutes for a 35-34 win against Texas A&M that keeps their postseason hopes flickering.
CU (3-6 overall, 2-3 Big 12 Conference) earned the victory with a 22-yard Tyler Hansen-to-Patrick Devenny touchdown pass - the catch came on a one-handed stab in the end zone - and a pair of ensuing defensive highlights by safety Anthony Perkins (interception) and linebacker Marcus Burton (fumbled punt recovery) as A&M futilely pursued its own rally.
"I think (the Buffs) showed tremendous resolve, and I think that's a great thing about them," Hawkins said. "They continue to believe."
Indeed, the Buffs gave themselves a bunch to believe in, getting a breakthrough performance from receiver Markques Simas (seven catches, 135 yards, both career highs) and a 118-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance from tailback Rodney "Speedy" Stewart.
And although he suffered his second consecutive eight-sack (60 lost yards) game, Hansen was composed enough when it counted to drive CU 61 yards for the tying touchdown and Aric Goodman's game-winning PAT.
Hansen, who completed 21 of 32 passes for 271 yards (one interception) and the TD to Devenny and rushed for 20 times for 105 (45 after sack yardage), spoke for his teammates in saying the wear-blue movement showed "disrespect to us . . . we wanted to show them we're still here and we're a good team.
"We talked about having one heartbeat this week (and) playing for the guy next to you."
Simas, a first-season player in his third year on campus, finally had the game his teammates and coaches were expecting from him.
"I feel good about it," he said. "I feel like I've had that in me the whole time, and now I had a chance to show it. I was able to give everyone a taste of what's to come."
CU's newly minted offensive playmakers, though, received a big-time assist from the defense. For much of the game, "three-and-out" was the mantra of the A&M offense.
The Aggies (5-4, 2-3) entered the game averaging 490.5 yards in total offense - best in the Big 12 - and the Buffs held them to 374 yards total.
A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson came in No. 1 in total offense at 328.9 yards a game and was limited to 251 (242 passing, 9 rushing).
Hawkins said his defense "rallied, and obviously that was big. Texas A&M had a couple of gashers in there, but we were able to come back and get some things done."
The Aggies' biggest gasher was on special teams - a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown - but they also complicated things for the Buffs with one run of 27 yards, two passes for 29 yards and another for a 36-yard gain.
CU trailed by double-digits on two occasions (21-10 at halftime, 31-21 in the fourth quarter) but answered when necessary.
"We played with passion and heart," Sumler said. "We believe in ourselves - still."
To help combat what had been disastrously slow starts, the Buffs operated early from a no-huddle offense. But Hansen, who lost 74 yards on eight sacks last weekend, was sacked twice on his first offensive series.
To remedy that, offensive line mistakes meant players being pulled, the pocket being moved and Hansen making quicker throws. After being sacked five times in the first half, Hansen was trapped three times in the second.
Hawkins said his quarterback appeared "more in rhythm" than in previous games: "He was getting into a groove . . . we know he's a baller."
CU's moment of glory in the first half actually lasted only 14 seconds. That was how long the Buffs held their only lead before intermission.
After a goal line stand stopped A&M at the CU 1-yard line on the Aggies' first possession, A&M took advantage of the resulting short field and drove 47 yards to take a 7-0 lead.
But the Buffs responded with efficient drives on their next two series, positioning Goodman for a 37-yard field goal (7-3). After forcing the Aggies to go three-and-out, Stewart capped a 69-yard march with a 13-yard touchdown run to push CU ahead 10-7.
Then the half began to unravel for the Buffs.
A&M regained the lead (14-10) when Cyrus Gray returned Goodman's kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Then, unable to capitalize on another three-and-out forced by the Buffs defense, the CU offense fizzled with a false start on first down and a 9-yard trip/sack loss by Hansen on second down.
Matt DiLallo got off the best of his four first-half punts - a 46-yarder - but the Aggies took over on their 44 with 2:58 left in the half. Ten plays later, Johnson scored on a 3-yard keeper, and 17 seconds before intermission, CU's brief lead and flirtation with momentum were lost in a 21-10 A&M advantage.
The Buffs managed 169 yards in total offense (106 passing, 63 rushing) in the first half, while the Aggies had 175 (98 rushing, 77 passing).
To open the second half, CU's defense again stepped up, holding A&M to a missed field goal. The Buffs answered with a 50-yard drive ending with a 37-yard field goal by Goodman to cut the Aggies' advantage to 21-13 with 7:54 left in the third quarter.
A series later, after holding A&M to another three-and-out, Hansen marched CU 79 yards in 10 plays, the last of which was an option pitch to Stewart, who ran around right end for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Buffs tied the game (21-21) on Hansen's two-point conversion pass to Simas, and the third quarter ended that way.
Only three plays into the fourth quarter, the tie was broken (28-21) when A&M tailback Christine Michael bounced outside on a play off right tackle and scored on a 6-yard run to complete an 85-yard drive.
Two plays later, the Buffs' plight got worse when Hansen underthrew Simas and was intercepted by free safety Jordan Pugh. CU's defense held, but Randy Bullock's 47-yard field goal staked A&M to its second double-digit lead (31-21).
The Buffs were left with 10:53 to make up a 10-point deficit, and they immediately went to work. Two plays after Hansen and Simas converted a third-and-13 for a first down at the Aggies' 31, Sumler ran 8 yards for his first TD of the season.
Goodman's PAT pulled the Buffs back to within three (31-28) with 7:14 to play, but Bullock's 20-yard field goal with 3:59 left doubled CU's deficit (34-28).
The Buffs didn't blink, answering with their 61-yard drive that included another Hansen-Simas third-down connection - this one for 45 yards - and Devenny's one-handed scoring catch.
The Aggies had 2:04 to respond - but Perkins and Burton provided the telling answers instead.
With three games remaining - two of them on the road (next Saturday at Iowa State, Nov. 19 at Oklahoma State) and the Buffs counting but two road wins in Hawkins' tenure - CU is halfway to the six wins necessary for bowl eligibility.
Inconsistent play through September and October has reduced the Buffs' margin for error from slim to none. Now, each week is a back-to-the-wall exercise.
Hawkins termed it a variation of "March Madness," and nickel back Jalil Brown added, "It's win out or go home during Christmas time. Nobody wants to go home during Christmas break. We're football players; we want to be here playing football."
There's a tough road ahead - and that's meant in a most literal sense.
REINHARDT REUNION: Former CU tight end Ed Reinhardt, Jr., and his father, Ed Sr., enjoyed a pregame visit Saturday with Bill Byrne, the Texas A&M athletic director who held the same position at Oregon in 1984 when Ed Jr., suffered a severe brain injury in a game against the Ducks.
Recalled Byrne: "It was a hard thing, really hard. His brother (John) was playing at Nebraska . . . we had to get (him) to Eugene. One of our donors paid for the airplane, and our fans really tried to adopt the family.
"It was a very emotional thing. His parents were absolutely unbelievable."
Byrne saw the family a few years later when Oregon played in Boulder, and CU had "Ed Reinhardt Day."
"I got to visit with them then and got to see Ed," Bryne said. "I saw them once again when I was at Nebraska (as athletic director), but it's been a long time."
Ed, Sr. called Byrne "a tremendous guy . . . we had such great support (from Oregon). They assigned one of their assistant athletic directors to support us all the way through . . . He was with us all the time; whatever we needed, we had."
BUFF BITS: Receiver Scotty McKnight made two first quarter receptions, extending his school record streak for catches in consecutive games to 33 . . . . McKnight also was among the players used by CU as a punt returner instead of Jason Espinoza . . . . Hansen's 47-yard completion to Simas in the second quarter was the Buffs' longest completion and longest play from scrimmage this season . . . . McKnight, who is Simas' roommate, on his roomie's big afternoon: "I'm so happy for Markques . . . I feel like a proud father." . . . . Stewart recorded his seventh career 100-yard game (fourth this season). His 118 yards rushing Saturday and Simas' 135 receiving marked the 28th time in school history that two players have surpassed 100 yards in those categories in the same game . . . . Goodman on his game-winning PAT: "I just pretty much wanted to do what I always do and stay consistent. I kept my head down and followed through." Goodman has made five consecutive field goals.