BOULDER - Tossing caution (and most everything else) to the wind on Saturday afternoon, the Colorado Buffaloes made Arizona their first Pac-12 Conference victim and snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 48-29 victory at Folsom Field.
The Buffs celebrated a way-beyond-breezy Senior Day with their highest point total of the season and avoided becoming the first CU team to go winless at Folsom, which opened in 1924. Able to sing their fight song for the first time since Sept. 17 when they defeated Colorado State 28-14, the Buffs are now 2-9 overall and 1-6 in the Pac-12 with a pair of road trips remaining (next Saturday at UCLA; Friday, Nov. 25 at Utah).
CU, which had been outscored 235-64 in its five previous games, punished Arizona with four 80-yard scoring drives. Tailback Rodney “Speedy” Stewart, one of 28 Buffs seniors, recorded the 16th 100-yard rushing game of his career (second this season) with 24 carries for 181 yards and three touchdowns. For good measure, Stewart also threw a 14-yard TD pass to senior quarterback Tyler Hansen.
Senior receiver Toney Clemons also made his final Folsom appearance count, catching five of Hansen’s passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. In his last three games, Clemons has caught 18 passes for 324 yards and three TDs.
No doubt aided by wind gusts that went from 60 mph in the first half to 71 mph in the third quarter, CU’s defense did a commendable job on Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who entered the game leading the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (361.7) and total offense (349.8). He completed 35 of 53 passes Saturday for 352 yards and one score. But he was intercepted three times and sacked twice.
Hansen finished 16-of-26 for 213 yards and two scores, with one interception. He also rushed 10 times for 50 of the Buffs’ 274 ground yards and caught the scoring pass from Stewart. CU had 501 in total offense.
Arizona dropped to 2-8 overall, 1-7 in the Pac-12 and left Folsom with a seven-game road losing streak that dates to last season.
The Buffs rolled up a season-high 20 first-half points and led 20-10 at intermission, getting touchdowns on a 5-yard run by Stewart, a 5-yard pass from Hansen to Tony Jones and a 17-yard run by Josh Ford – the first score of his college career. The Hansen-to-Jones pass rewarded CU for converting a critical fourth-and-two at the 5.
Will Oliver was successful on two of his three first-half extra point attempts, the only miss a wind-altered try at Folsom’s south end that sailed wide left. It was Oliver’s first miss in his last 23 attempts. Still, the freshman’s two successful PATs gave him 53 points and broke a freshman school record (52) formerly held by placekicker Mason Crosby.
CU scored on its first possession, but also allowed Arizona three points via John Bonano’s 25-yard field goal on its opening series. But the Buffs immediately increased their lead to 13-3, answering with a 12-play, 80-yard drive featuring a pair of Hansen-to-Clemons passes that covered 56 yards.
The Buffs failed to capitalize on a Foles fumbles that was forced by linebacker Patrick Mahnke and recovered by defensive tackle Will Pericak at the CU 38-yard line. But the Wildcats capitalized on that missed opportunity, marching 65 yards in seven plays and getting their lone first-half TD on a 1-yard plunge by tailback Ka’Deem Carey. Bonano’s PAT brought Arizona to within three points, 13-10, with 6:28 left in the half.
After the Wildcats forced the Buffs into a three-and-out, CU returned the favor and Arizona’s Kyle Dugandzic dropped back to punt. But in fielding a low snap, he was ruled to have touched a knee to the ground, giving CU possession at the Arizona 28-yard line.
It was the break the Buffs needed to hit 20 points and take control. On their third play, Ford followed his blocking over the right side and weaved his way into the end zone. Kicking again toward the wobbling south goalposts, Oliver this time appeared to make a wind adjustment and nailed the PAT.
The Buffs went up 20-10 and were halfway home to their second win of the season and their first in the Pac-12.
CU played the second quarter without Stewart, who went to the sidelines after 23-yard run in the first quarter and went to the locker room to have an ankle re-taped. Stewart was back for the opening drive of the second half as the Buffs strung together their third 80-yard drive – a season high – and also took their biggest lead of the season, 27-10.
Hansen and Clemons combined for the score, Clemons diving for a 15-yard pass completion in the end zone. Oliver kicked the Buffs up by 17 – but that wasn’t enough. Just under 7 minutes later, Hansen and Stewart teamed for the play-of-the-day – a Hansen lateral to Stewart, who threw back to Hansen for a 14-yard TD. It was Hansen’s first career reception and Stewart’s second career TD pass.
Oliver’s PAT pushed CU ahead 34-10, but Hansen was intercepted by linebacker Tra’Mayne Bondurant, who scored on a 29-yard return to bring Arizona to within 34-17 with 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Arizona closed to 34-23 early in the fourth quarter, scoring on an 11-yard Foles-to-David Douglas pass with 10:33 to play. But CU responded with its fourth 80-yard scoring drive, this one capped by Stewart’s 11-yard run and Oliver’s PAT that gave the Buffs 41 points.
The Wildcats wouldn’t roll over. Foles drove them 50 yards, with a 2-yard run by Carey bringing them to 41-29 with 4:14 left. After a failed two-point pass attempt, they recovered an on-sides kick at their own 40-yard line.
However, Foles’ first down pass attempt was picked off by senior corner Jason Espinoza – and the Buffs marched 53 yards and let Stewart score again, this time on a 9-yard run. After Oliver’s extra point kick, CU led 48-29 with 1:45 to play.
After senior corner Travis Sandersfeld intercepted Foles with 20 seconds remaining, the Buffs could begin warming up to sing their fight song.