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.
For three dismal quarters on a dismal day in Lincoln, Neb., CU appeared to be allowing its national championship dream to trickle away.
But, oh, that fourth quarter . . . it was the stuff of highlight reels and legendary CU moments.
Trailing 12-0 and reeling from seven fumbles - three of them lost by tailback Eric Bieniemy - the Buffs righted themselves in a very big way and disposed of the Big Red by scoring 27 fourth-quarter points.
In a 15-minute period of pure redemption, Bieniemy ran for four touchdowns and the Buffs romped to a 27-12 victory - their first in Lincoln since 1967 and the first game in which they'd even scored at Nebraska since 1985.
CU was two wins away from an unbeaten Big Eight season and a repeat trip to the Orange Bowl. The Buffs were on a mission from 'Mac' - that would be head coach Bill McCartney - and they were determined to see it through.
CU takes the fourth
Last-period surge lets Buffs smell the oranges
By B.G. Brooks
Rocky Mountain News
LINCOLN, Neb. - When nothing else worked yesterday in red and raw Memorial Stadium, Colorado stopped playing Big Red roulette and started playing like the defending Big Eight champion.
And dazed Nebraska simply couldn't play with the Buffs.
Scoring 27 fourth-quarter points while limiting No. 3 NU to minus-4 yards in total offense, No. 9 CU crushed the Cornhuskers 27-12, moving into the inside lane for a second consecutive Orange Bowl trip and a possible run at the 1990 national championship.
After starting the season 1-1-1, CU is now 8-1-1 overall and atop the Big Eight at 5-0. Home games remain against Oklahoma State (Saturday) and Kansas State (Nov. 17).
The Huskers, meanwhile, lost for the first time at home in 20 games. NU is 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the league.
"This is the greatest feeling of my life," said CU offensive captain Joe Garten in a delirious locker room where the Buffs showed every sign of the unity their critics said couldn't be recaptured from 1989's undefeated regular season.
As sections of oranges were being squeezed over players' heads and randomly thrown, Garten and his offensive teammates chanted "Dee-fense, Dee-fense," while the Buffs defenders answered with chants of "Off-fense, Off-fense."
"What we're talking about here," said a misty-eyed CU coach Bill McCartney, "is a group of guys who won't be beaten, can't be beaten."
But for three quarters the Buffs -- specifically senior tailback Eric Bieniemy -- engaged themselves in a game of giveaway and self-flagellation. The Buffs fumbled seven times, losing three of them -- and all three dropped from Bieniemy's hands.
"I couldn't believe what was happening," said Bieniemy, the nation's leading rusher and now a solid contender for the Heisman trophy. "I said to myself, 'No more, no more.' Coach told me to keep my head up and hold onto the ball. It was a lack of concentration."
But in the final 15 minutes, Bieniemy lacked nothing. For the game, he gained 137 yards on 38 carries, becoming the first back to gain more than 100 yards this season on the nation's top-ranked defense.
Bieniemy scored four times in the fourth period as the Buffs won for the first time in Lincoln since 1967 and positioned themselves to win their first back-to-back Big Eight championships.
Before Bieniemy, the Huskers had allowed only one rushing TD this season. NU was allowing just 98.6 rushing yards per game. CU gained 166 yards rushing and 143 passing (309 total).
Meanwhile, CU's defense so dominated NU in the last quarter that Huskers fans began filing out with more than four minutes remaining. Such early exits, said an NU spokesman, are routine during Huskers blowouts -- but he couldn't recall the last time Big Red loyalists had left under these circumstances.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Huskers had gained 236 yards in total offense. They finished the game with 232. While the Buffs were balancing Darian Hagan's passing, Mike Pritchard's receiving and Bieniemy's running for their 27 points, the Huskers were being held without a fourth-quarter first down.
"Everybody said we won 11 games on emotion last year. The whole nation was afraid to say we had the talent," said CU outside linebacker Alfred Williams, who made two tackles for losses and one quarterback sack.
"Well, this time we didn't need five downs. We stuffed them (defensively), then we took the ball and ran down their throats. What are they going to say now?"
Williams & Co. were threatened by NU's option offense only when Bieniemy couldn't hold the ball. The first of his fumbles stopped a first-quarter CU drive at the Huskers' 2-yard line. That didn't lead to an NU score, but it obviously gnawed at Bieniemy's confidence.
"When he's down like that," said Hagan, "we talk trash to him. He doesn't want to be consoled. So we don't do it."
Nebraska, playing its first game against a ranked opponent, took a 3-0 lead on Gregg Barrios' 26-yard field goal with 13:14 left in the second quarter. Less than two minutes later, following linebacker Mike Petko's interception of Hagan, Barrios' 44-yarder made it 6-0.
The first half ended that way, with the Buffs getting a fumble recovery of their own (Brian Dyet) but Bieniemy giving it back with his second lost fumble.
Midway through the third period, CU drove to the NU 21-yard line and appeared ready to score for the first time in Memorial Stadium since 1985. But Bieniemy's third lost fumble ended that drive.
Five plays later, Huskers quarterback Mickey Joseph floated a wobbly pass to uncovered tight end Johnny Mitchell. The play covered 46 yards and gave NU a 12-0 lead with 2:38 left in the third quarter. Joseph's pass on a two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
But the Buffs didn't blink. Hagan directed a 10-play, 71-yard drive highlighted by a 30-yard pass to Rico Smith and a 19-yarder to Pritchard. Bieniemy's 1-yard dive and Jim Harper's extra point pulled CU to 12-7 with less than 20 seconds gone in the final quarter.
For NU, the scenario was fast becoming three downs and out. And Hagan, with a kind but cold westerly wind at his back, found the Huskers susceptible to the pass.
He hit Pritchard for 34 yards to the NU 11. On third down, Hagan tossed a jump pass to tight end Dave Brown, who made a jumping catch but then dropped the ball. However, second tight end Sean Brown recovered for a 4-yard gain. Bieniemy scored on the next play and CU took a 13-12 lead.
Big trouble for the Big Red.
"The fact that we'd been down so much in fourth quarters helped us," added CU offensive tackle Ariel Solomon. "We kept going at them. We knew we'd turn it around at some point."
On the Huskers' next series, coach Tom Osborne called for a run out of punt formation on fourth-and-3 from the NU 28. Fullback Tim Johnk was stopped a yard short of the first down, and CU took over at the Huskers' 30-yard line.
"It caught me totally by surprise," McCartney said. "We'd practiced against it numerous times, but I wasn't ready for it."
His players were. Reserve linebacker Rob Hutchins made the play. The Buffs sniffed the kill.
Hagan drove them 30 yards in five plays, with Bieniemy scoring his third TD on a 3-yard run. Harper's kick shot CU's lead to 20-12 with 4:35 left, and a sea of red rainwear began seeking the exits.
Many of the NU fans were on their way out when Williams sacked Joseph on fourth-and-15 at the NU 10 with 2:51 remaining. In three plays, Bieniemy's 5-yard run and Harper's kick ended the scoring and CU's 23 years of frustration in Lincoln.
It was CU 27, NU 12, and about 4,000 Buffs fans readied themselves for a celebration that spilled onto the field. "The people in Colorado have been long suffering," McCartney said. "To beat these teams (Oklahoma and Nebraska) back to back for two years, I feel tremendous joy for the people back home."
Next: Game 11 - Oklahoma StateContact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU