To commemorate CU's national championship, secured that season in the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame, CUBuffs.com will take a look back at each game of the '90 season. Game stories that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News and were written by B.G. Brooks, now Contributing Editor for CUBuffs.com, will be reprinted each Wednesday on the website.
The Stanford Cardinal came to Boulder on Sept. 6, 1990 unranked and unfazed by being a 20 ½-point underdog. Colorado was ranked No. 6 but it didn't matter to Stanford, which rolled to a 14-0 lead and stunned a Folsom Field crowd titillated by preseason dreams of a national championship.
In the end - the very end, as it turned out - the return of tailback Eric Bieniemy from a one-game suspension made the biggest difference for the Buffs. His 1-yard scoring dive with 12 seconds to play gave CU its only lead of the night, 21-17, and exasperated Stanford coach Denny Green.
The Buffs, 1-0-1 after their season-opening tie against Tennessee, earned their first win of the new decade. CU's March to Miami still had legs - but they were wobbly.
Buffs Rally With Bieniemy's Big Plays
Colorado scores in final seconds to nip Stanford
By B.G. Brooks
Rocky Mountain News
BOULDER - Nobody said it would be easy, but neither did anyone say it had to be like this.
Stanford, allegedly the laugher of Colorado's no-nonsense non-conference schedule, came within 2 feet and 12 seconds last night of ruining the Buffs' 1990 home opener.
And perhaps their season.
The sixth-ranked Buffs were forced to drive 80 yards in the game's final 4:17 to put away the Cardinal 21-17 and record their first triumph of the new decade. And for the 50,669 who watched at Folsom Field and millions more who watched on ESPN, it was a game to be remembered far into the '90s.
On fourth down inside the Stanford 1-yard line, senior tailback Eric Bieniemy hurtled toward the goal line and barely nudged over the plane for the winning touchdown. With 12 seconds left, Jim Harper's conversion gave the Buffs (1-0-1) their four-point lead.
It was CU's only lead of the game over unranked, undaunted Stanford, a 20 ½ - point underdog. It was also the first time since 1984 that the Buffs have rallied from a 14-0 deficit to win. They managed it in November of that season, coming back to beat Kansas State 38-21.
"I don't know if I'm going to last 15 years," said CU coach Bill McCartney, referring to the 15-year contract he signed recently. "There was nothing pretty about it. But we had a lot of grit at the end of the game."
Bieniemy, kept out of CU's opening 31-31 tie with Tennessee because of a one-game disciplinary suspension, returned in explosive style. He rushed 32 times for 149 yards and all three Buffs touchdowns. He scored on runs of 18, 36 and 1 yards.
CU quarterback Darian Hagan also topped 100 yards rushing, gaining 103 on 20 carries. But for most of the night the Cardinal (0-1) did exactly what it planned defensively-harass Hagan and the CU option.
Shadowing Hagan and his pitchman-usually Bieniemy-on the perimeter, Stanford limited CU to 88 yards rushing in the first half.
"It was the most trouble we've had since we've been running the option," McCartney said. "They covered both guards and the center. It's a variation of the (Chicago) Bears' '46' (defense). I always thought you couldn't run that against us . . . but I found out you could."
CU guard Joe Garten said the Cardinal "played a defense we didn't prepare for. They did a lot of angling and blitzing and were taking big chances. We had to pick up the stunts."
Meanwhile, the Cardinal offense was keeping the Buffs off balance with the passing of Jason Palumbis (18-of-29, 155 yards) and the running of transfers Glyn Milburn (11 carries, 37 yards) and Ellery Roberts (six carries, 21 yards).
The last time Milburn was in Boulder (1988), he wore an Oklahoma uniform and impressed CU with his punt returning ability. Last night, he was in Cardinal attire and even more impressive.
He returned a Tom Rouen punt 73 yards to set up Stanford's first score. A dive by CU strong safety Tim James stopped Milburn at the Buffs' 1-yard line, but Palumbis sneaked over on the next play.
John Hopkins kicked the extra point, and the Cardinal's 7-0 lead with 5:50 left in the first period delivered CU its first major shock.
The second came less than 10 seconds later. On the first play following Stanford's kickoff, the ball was stripped from Bieniemy's grasp, and outside linebacker Dave Garnett recovered at the CU 21.
It took Palumbis four plays to send the now-greedy Cardinal up 14-0. Backup fullback Tommy Vardell dove 1 yard for the TD, and once again Hopkins converted.
Something very close to stunned silence settled onto Folsom Field.
Hagan, who completed eight of 17 passes for 154 yards, positioned the Buffs for a first-half score with a 37-yard run to the Stanford 13-yard line in the first half's final minute. But three plays later, Hagan threw his fourth interception of the season and the threat fizzled.
But Hagan and the Buffs sizzled in the third quarter. On their second possession, he drove them 45 yards in four plays, with Bieniemy scoring his first TD on an 18-yard run. Harper converted and cut Stanford's lead to 14-7.
Just under three minutes later, Hagan directed a five-play, 64-yard drive that Bieniemy capped with a 36-yard TD run. Harper tied the score at 14 with 5:09 left in the third quarter.
But the Cardinal wasn't finished. Moving his team 58 yards in a time-consuming (7:13) 14-play drive, Palumbis positioned Hopkins for a 27-yard field goal that sent Stanford ahead 17-14.
Only 4:17 remained in the game, but that was enough time for Hagan's magic to unfold. The 15-play drive's monumental plays went like this:
- Tight end Jon Boman tips a Hagan pass, recovers it and lumbers 30 yards to the Stanford 38;
- Bieniemy breaks into the clear near the Stanford 25, but loses his grip on the ball. Buffs guard Russ Heasley recovers it for a 14-yard gain;
- On third-and-6 at the Stanford 7, Hagan tries to run a bootleg right, appears trapped by two Cardinal defenders but spins out and gains 5 yards;
- On fourth-and-1, Hagan sneaks behind center Jay Leeuwenburg and Garten for a first down to the Stanford 1;
- After two unproductive shots by fullback George Hemingway and an errant Hagan pass on third down, Bieniemy dives for the winning TD.
"No way that was in," said Stanford coach Denny Green. "I don't buy it."
With 12 seconds to play, Palumbis was able to run two plays. He was sacked on the first by Garry Howe, and intercepted on the second by Dave McCloughan.
Next: Game 3 - at Illinois