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.
Their non-conference schedule had steeled the Buffs in the art of coming back and winning late. So being down 31-27 with 21/2 minutes to play at Missouri bordered on being old-hat for CU.
This comeback would be different - very different.
For starters, CU's starting quarterback, junior Darian Hagan, was out of the lineup with a shoulder injury. In his place, senior Charles Johnson was making the first of only two college starts.
And it was on an artificial surface (sand-based OmniTurf) that CU coach Bill McCartney would later deem virtually unplayable for his option offense. At game's end - and there have been fewer wilder endings in college football - McCartney would rant that a playing surface responsible for his team's 92 slips (a day later reviewing film he and his staff counted them) was the afternoon's real story.
Ah, what about "Fifth Down?"
Because of the extra down and the role it played in CU's 33-31 win, as well as its place the subsequent drive to a national championship, the Buffs couldn't avoid the national spotlight for the 21/2 months. To some, "Fifth Down" cheapened any CU accomplishment thereafter.
Compounding the afternoon's controversy, Johnson's 1-yard squirm into the end zone still is questioned by Mizzou fans who believe he never crossed the goal line.
Of course, replay would have solved both issues - the extra down and the alleged "phantom" TD. But replay was a thing of the future; CU got the 'W' and never looked back.
Well, maybe a couple of times.
Colorado takes the fifth
Buffs score winning TD on extra down
By B.G. Brooks
Rocky Mountain News
COLUMBIA, Mo. - On a sweltering Missouri afternoon that finally boiled over, Colorado took the fifth, the victory and got out of town.
Case closed, said the Buffs, who scored on fifth-and-goal from the 1-yard line as time expired to beat Mizzou 33-31.
Mistrial, not to mention miscarriage of justice, said the Tigers and a progressively hostile crowd of 46,856 in Faurot Field.
Charles S. Johnson, making his first collegiate start in place of injured Darian Hagan, drove CU 88 yards in 15 plays for the controversial winning score.
The drive began with 2:24 remaining. The Buffs began their final play - a 1-yard plunge by Johnson over right guard after a checkoff - with :02 left.
With no time remaining, both teams began leaving the field. After a 15-minute delay in which the officials mulled their previous and next move, the players were summoned for the extra point. An attempted CU kick could have been blocked, allowing MU to tie by returning the ball for a two-point conversion of its own.
But CU's coaches had instructed Johnson to take the snap, kneel and end the game. The chaos began.
Irate Tigers fans assaulted the goalposts in the stadium's south end zone - maybe the first time goalposts have been torn down in defeat.
The seven-man officiating crew required a police escort to leave the field. One of the escort was overrun by a fan, who was knocked to the ground by another pair of officers, handcuffed and led away.
Showered by debris and unkind words, the officials exited the field and retreated to a nearby groundskeeper's hut. Police at the door kept about a dozen MU fans at bay.
The Tigers fans' rage was touched off by the Buffs running five plays from the MU 4-yard line. Few persons on the field or off noticed the error - not the players, not the coaches, not the clock operator, not the down-keeper on the sidelines.
But the Buffs did receive five downs. The official press box play-by-play listed them. Replays last night on Columbia television station KOMU, an NBC affiliate, showed the down wasn't advanced from second to third either on the field or the scoreboard after a 2-yard run by Buffs tailback Eric Bieniemy.
The controversial sequence began with 30 seconds left and CU having a first-and-goal at the MU 3-yard line. It went like this:
- First down: Johnson takes the snap, and grounds the ball, stopping the clock at :28.
- Second down: Bieniemy dives for 2 yards to the 1-yard line, and CU uses its final timeout with 18 seconds to play.
- Third down: Bieniemy is stopped for no gain by MU cornerback Maurice Benson. The clock runs to :07.
- Fourth down: Johnson takes the snap, grounds the ball and stops the clock with :02 left.
- Fifth down: Johnson sneaks right for the winning touchdown.
Asked about the five downs, head referee J.C. Louderback deferred all comments to the Big Eight office, then said, "Our record on the field as officials is that they scored on fourth down."
Asked if there was any provision in the rules to remove a touchdown once scored, he added, "Only if there would be a penalty at that point."
There was none - and No. 12-ranked CU won its third consecutive game (4-1-1 overall) and its Big Eight opener. Afterwards, CU coach Bill McCartney emerged from his locker room and preferred to berate Faurot Field's artificial surface rather than address the five-down fiasco.
"The biggest story is that field is not playable," bellowed McCartney, referring to CU ball carriers or receivers losing their footing at least 15 times. "No one should have to play on that field. You can't even make a cut on that dang field.
"It's a joke to college football to try to run an option attack on that field. We slipped and slid all day, or we would have put more points on the board; I'll tell you that."
Retaliated MU coach Bill Stull: "They get five downs and he's crying? We should have stopped them on fifth down."
Added MU athletic director Dick Tamburo: "If he's complaining about slipping on the turf, I'm complaining about seven officials who can't count."
Later, McCartney asked a reporter if he believed CU had scored in five plays. Told yes, he turned to CU athletic director Bill Marolt and asked, "They can't take it away from us, can they?"
Marolt shook his head, indicating no.
In the final drive, the Buffs regained their footing and wits to overcome the passing of MU quarterback Kent Kiefer. He completed 19 of 34 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns, including a 38-yarder to Damon Mays that gave the Tigers (2-3, 0-1) a 31-27 lead with 2:32 to play.
Kiefer's other TD passes were 19 yards to Victor Bailey and 49 yards to Mays. MU's other scoring came on Michael Jones' 13-yard run and a 45-yard field goal by Jeff Jacke.
When they managed to remain upright, the Buffs countered with a mixed bag of big plays. Johnson passed 70 yards to Mike Pritchard for a touchdown, Pritchard ran 68 yards on a flanker reverse for another score, and Bieniemy ran 29 yards for his seventh TD of the season. Jim Harper accounted for CU's other scoring with field goals of 35 and 39 yards.
Bieniemy became CU's all-time leading rusher, gaining a career-high 217 yards on 29 carries. Some day, he said, he will cherish the record. Yesterday afternoon, he preferred to praise Johnson's "heart and character."
A locker room away, there were no references to character - only characters outfitted in stripes.
The normally stoic Stull said the officials "didn't say much. It was too late; they ran two plays right in a row. They said it was their decision it was four downs."
Then, pressed by reporters about CU's escape and the five-down finale, Stull said, "Sal's still around," and walked away.
Next: Game 6 - Iowa State