DENVER - Colorado State capitalized on a sloppy first-half finish by Colorado and got three field goals by Jared Roberts - two in the final quarter - to upset the Buffaloes 22-17 Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High before 58,607.
The victory etched a place in CSU history for first-year coach Jim McElwain. He became the only first-year Rams coach (1-11-1) to defeat the Buffs.
Saturday's game was the 12th played in Denver, with CU entering the afternoon holding a 7-4 lead and having won four straight, including a 28-14 win in last season's Rocky Mountain Showdown.
But this sweltering opening day belonged to CSU, which fell behind 14-3 late in the second quarter but didn't wilt in the 94-degree temperatures.
CU unveiled its hurry-up offense, but it didn't appear to faze CSU. The Buffs gained 245 total yards to the Rams' 298, and CU managed only 58 yards rushing - an offensive phase that had been an off-season focal point for second-year coach Jon Embree.
In his CU debut, junior quarterback Jordan Webb completed 22 of 41 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked five times. But the bulk of his passing yardage (135) and both TDs came in the first half when the Buffs cruised to a 14-3 lead and appeared to be in control.
But CSU, which still trails 61-21-2 in the series, outscored CU 19-3 in the final minute of the first half and in the last half to stun the Buffs, who had a final chance at a comeback with 2:56 to play, but got only as far as the Rams' 35. On fourth-and-two, a Webb pass for freshman Gerald Thomas went for negative yardage.
The Rams took over and killed the final 48 seconds - as well as the Buffs.
CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson completed 14 of 21 passes for 173 yards and a pair of TDs, and the Rams' ground game netted 125 yards. CU lost two fumbles, CSU one.
After spotting CSU a 3-0 lead, CU surged back behind the passing of Webb and went up 14-3 with barely 41/2 minutes left in the half. But in that final 4:25, trouble surfaced for CU.
It started with a blindside hit on Webb that forced a fumble. CSU defensive end Lanston Tanyi recovered at the Rams 47, but the Buffs defense appeared to snuff that threat, forcing a punt by CSU's Pete Kontodiakos.
Rather than put freshman Kenneth Crawley back to return - he had bobbled an earlier Kontodiakos punt - CU used sophomore D.D. Goodson. But the switch backfired; Goodson muffed the punt and the Rams recovered at the Buffs' 20-yard line.
One play later, Grayson found a wide open Dominique Vinson in the right corner of the end zone and CSU pulled to 14-9 with 26 seconds left before halftime. Jared Roberts' PAT was blocked and the first half ended with that score.
With the CU offense sputtering on its first two series (three-and-out both times), Roberts had put CSU up 3-0 with a 47-yard field goal on the Rams' second series.
On the Buffs' first two possessions, Webb opened 0-for-4, with two of his incompletions due to drops. But thereafter, his receivers - particularly redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce - would settle down and get serious.
Webb threw touchdown passes to Spruce (15 yards) and Tyler McCulloch (9 yards) and finished the half 15-of-23 for 135 yards and the two scores. After his TD toss to McCulloch, Webb was 14-for-18 after his 0-for-4 start - and he suffered yet another drop before the half ended.
On CU's first scoring drive, Embree elected to go for a fourth-and-seven at the CSU 28 - and Webb and Spruce converted it with a 9-yard pitch-and-catch. Two plays later, Webb zipped the ball through a tight window in the back of the end zone to Spruce for a 15-yard score.
On the ensuing CSU possession, McElwain tried his hand at a fourth-down conversion, but the Buffs stuffed Tommey Morris on fourth-and-two for a 1-yard gain.
Webb & Co. took over at the CSU 47 and marched that distance in 10 plays, with Webb and McCulloch - he controlled a low pass with one hand and gathered it in - teaming for the score. CU converted a fourth-and-five on that drive, too, but this time via a pass interference call.
CU outgained CSU 169-127 in first-half total yardage, including 135-92 passing. Spruce caught seven first-half passes for 57 yards, but had only one more reception in the second half. Still, his eight catches tied Scotty McKnight for the most by a first-year CU player in his debut.
With their pair of second-quarter TDs, the Buffs had rebounded from their sketchy start. But their shoddy first-half finish gave the Rams the reprieve (and the momentum) they needed.
And after stopping the Buffs on the first series of the second half, they marched 89 yards in eight plays to go ahead 16-14. CSU scored on a Grayson-to-Joe Hansley 32-yard catch and run, with Roberts' extra point putting the Rams up by two with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
But less than 3 minutes later, Buffs linebacker Brady Daigh smacked Morris and the ball came out. Defensive tackle Will Pericak grabbed it, giving CU possession at the CSU 15.
The Buffs moved to the Rams' 3, where tailback Malcolm Creer went off tackle and stretched for the goal line. The ball bounced out of his grasp when it hit the ground, defensive back Austin Gray picked it up and ran 99 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown.
But when the play was reviewed, the call was reversed, giving the Buffs fourth down at the Rams 1-yard line. Instead of attempting a field goal that could have put CU back in the lead, a Webb rollout was called.
Pressured, his pass for tight end Nick Kasa sailed out of the end zone and CSU took possession at its 1-yard line, holding the 16-14 advantage the Rams would carry into the fourth quarter.
Less than 2 minutes into the quarter, CU regained the lead (17-16) on a 30-yard Will Oliver field goal. It was set up by a 24-yard punt return to the Rams' 35 by Crawley.
With 13:18 to answer, CSU required less than half that time to position Roberts for a 48-yard field that put the Rams back in front 19-17.
That left the Buffs 6:39 to respond, and they started what they hoped would be a winning drive on their own 25. Instead, they went three-and-out and the Rams added another Roberts field goal - this one from 32 yards - to push ahead 22-17 with 2:56 remaining.
The game ended that way, leaving the Buffs bitterly disappointed as they head to next Saturday's home opener against Sacramento State.