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(Commemorating the 10-year anniversary of CU’s 2001 Big 12 Championship, CUBuffs.com is posting weekly game stories from that season. In Week 6, with the Buffs moving into the Top 25 for the first time that season at No. 20, CU played host to No. 25 Texas A&M. The home team didn’t clinch its win until the final minute of play, when linebacker Kory Mossoni forced a fumble and teammate Joey Johnson returned it for a touchdown. The Buffs, said Mossoni, “are playing with an attitude”  -- and it was an attitude the rest of the Big 12 Conference couldn’t help but notice.)

Buffs Steal The Show From A&M

By Ryan Thorburn
Camera Sports Writer

BOULDER – The actual attendance was 49, 521, but some believe one more person was present at Folsom Field on Saturday afternoon.

Legend has it that Fred Casotti, the longtime Colorado athletics employee who passed away on Friday at age 77, caused the fourth-quarter fumble that sealed Texas A&M’s football fate in the 31-21 Buff’s victory.

“You know that fumble at the end,” CU tight ends coach John Wristen wondered after the game as he gazed skyward. “Thank you, Fred.”

Casotti would have preferred to give credit where credit is due. And the earthly statistics and video replays suggest that Kory Mossoni actually caused the turnover—the Buffs’ first recovered fumble of the year. Joey Johnson returned the fumble 52 yards for the clinching touchdown with 58 seconds left.

“This year we’ve been definitely got an attitude that we’re not giving up and not giving in,” said Mossoni, who was able to hit quarterback Mark Farris and turn what looked to be a potential game-tying or perhaps winning Aggies drive into another Buffs victory over a ranked team. “We’re playing with an attitude.”

A year ago Farris would have hung onto the ball, and CU would not have hung onto the game.

But the 3-8 story is dead and the Buffs—now 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12—are well on their way to realizing the storybook ending Gary Barnett had written for them in July when he declared conference title game or bust.

“Last year we didn’t have that killer instinct,” said senior tailback Cortlen Johnson, who had given his team a 10-point lead with a 2-yard touchdown run earlier in the fourth quarter. “Now, you can just see it.”

The Buffs were still leading 24-14 with 5:30 to play and then Craig Ochs didn’t see A&M strong safety Wes Bautovich, who intercepted the ball and nearly the game. Two plays later Farris connected with Terrence Murphy on a 36-yard touchdown pass to trim the deficit to 24-21.

“My fault,” Ochs said of the turnover and sudden scoreboard turnaround. “I can’t make those plays.”

The Aggies (5-1, 2-1) would force the Buffs to punt, and Jeremy Flores pinned them at their own 9 with 2:16 left. But six plays later Farris had his team at the CU 35, poised to take the game or, at worst, take it to overtime.

“We played well on the last drive,” said Farris, who passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns but was picked twice by third-string cornerback Terrence Wood. “We moved the ball well, but it didn’t turn out in our favor.”

It turned out that Mossoni and Johnson both blitzed from the end and the lone tailback could only pick up one madman at a time.

“It was getting ugly there for awhile,” Johnson said of A&M’s methodical march down the field. “We were definitely on our heels. But everybody knew something good was going to happen.”

Mossoni hit Farris, the ball hit the grass and Johnson was a hit in the end zone.

“I didn’t know if the end zone would ever get there. It really wasn’t getting closer,” said Johnson, who was mobbed by teammates once he finally got there. “It’s hard to get a breath with 10 guys on you.”

The Buffs used four guys—Johnson (64 yards), Bobby Purify (42), Chris Brown (40) and Marcus Houston (24)—in the backfield to get the job done against a bruising A&M defensive front. And Derek McCoy emerged as Ochs’ new security blanket with five catches for a career-high 113 yards.

“I don’t know two better defenses in the country than the ones we’ve just played,” said Ochs, whose offense did just enough to upset Kansas State a week earlier. “We just went to our basics.”

Clyde Surrell’s tackle on the opening kickoff pinned the Aggies back on the 10. Consecutive tackles for loss by Justin Bannan and Marques Harris forced a punt from the back of the end zone, which Roman Hollowell returned 26 yards to the 16.

The Buffs—after runs of 2, 1, 2, and 1 yards—settled for an 18-yard Flores wedge shot and a 3-0 lead. He would add a 51-yard field goal in the second-quarter to make the score 6-0.

CU’s defense got caught in a blitz and Jamaar Taylor caught the ball behind cornerback Donald Strickland for a 64-yard touchdown that gave A&M a 7-7 lead with 8:44 left in the half.

Taylor also brought down a ball he wanted more than cornerback Phil Jackson and strong safety Michael Lewis for a 50-yard touchdown to make the score 14-6 with 5:20 left.

Then Ochs, who completed only one pass to a wide receiver against Kansas State, hooked up with McCoy on a 41-yard pass play that appeared to be trapped but was ruled a completion.

“I’ll say it was a catch,” a coy McCoy said.

McCoy caught a 7-yard touchdown and a 2-point conversion from Ochs to cap a nine-play, 46-yard drive and tie the score 14-14 with 12 seconds left in the half.

“That gave us huge momentum,” McCoy said. “They were a little bit down after that and it helped us in the second half.”

(Next: at Texas)