BOULDER - Sacramento State's Edgar Castaneda kicked a 30-yard field goal on the final play Saturday, sending the Hornets to a shocking 30-28 win over Colorado at Folsom Field.
The loss dropped the Buffaloes to 0-2 for the second time under coach Jon Embree, while the Hornets, members of the Big Sky Conference, evened their record at 1-1. CU lost its opener 22-17 last week to in-state rival Colorado State, while Sac State dropped its first game 49-19 at New Mexico State.
Embree said he didn't believe the Buffs entered Saturday's game thinking they would dominate an opponent from a lower division (FCS): "I came in thinking this was going to be a football game we were going to have to fight and win. And that is how they were coached all week...how they were talked to. No one thought we were just going to come in and win."
Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck said his players "battled back and really showed a lot of resilience...it was a great football game."
CU's bright spot in its 2012 home opener was freshman Christian Powell, who carried 28 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns, tying a school freshman record.
Sac State amassed 466 total yards (312 passing, 154 rushing) while CU gained 341 (188 passing, 153 rushing). The Hornets had 28 first downs to the Buffs' 20.
Sac State quarterback Garrett Safron completed 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, while CU's Jordan Webb went 12-for-24 for 160 and one TD. He was sacked three times, running that total to eight in two games.
After last week's distressing opening loss to CSU, CU fans hoped to see the Buffs respond with a more efficient performance that would include an improved running game.
They got their wish on CU's first two possessions, courtesy of a revamped backfield that featured the 235-pound Powell, who had practiced at fullback all August, lined up at tailback behind 245-pound fullback Alex Wood.
Powell ran 69 yards for a touchdown on his second carry, then capped a 72-yard drive with a one-yard plunge as the Buffs shot ahead 14-0 with 7:28 left in the first quarter.
CU finished the first quarter with 95 yards rushing, almost double its total (58) from the opener. But just as suddenly as the Buffs found their stride, they went lame again, finishing the first half with only 18 more yards on the ground.
Meanwhile, Sac State began picking apart CU's defense with a balanced read-option offense. The Hornets pulled to 14-7 on an 11-yard scoring pass from Safron to DeAndre Carter, then tied the game on a 2-yard run by A.J. Ellis. A 35-yard Safron toss to a disturbingly open Chris Broadnax gave Sac State its first lead - 21-14.
The Buffs answered with a 77-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 40-yard Webb to Nick Kasa pass, and tied the game at 21-21 with 2:44 left before intermission. CU got the TD on a 9-yard pass from Webb to sophomore tight end Kyle Slavin, giving Slavin his first career catch.
But by now the Hornets were moving at will, having scored on three consecutive possessions. They made it four straight by positioning Castaneda for a 28-yard field goal that gave Sac State a 24-21 halftime lead and left the CU fan base more than a little disgruntled.
The Hornets finished the half with 123 yards rushing and 167 passing (290 total), while the Buffs managed 113 on the ground and 127 in the air (240).
With Sac State set to receive the second half kickoff, CU had to put a stop to the Hornets' first-half progress - and they did. After Chidera Uzo-Diribe forced Safron into intentional grounding and ultimately a Sac State punt, CU took possession and went back to its "Big Buff" backfield - Powell and Wood.
Starting at its own 35, CU marched as far as the Sac State 7, where a reviewed pass interference call in the end zone on third down gave the Buffs a first down at the 2. It took three tries for the 235-pound Powell, but he finally got the TD on third-and-one. Will Oliver's PAT pushed the Buffs ahead 28-24.
The drive covered 65 yards and featured two critical plays besides the pass interference call in the end zone on Kasa. The first was a Webb-to-Alex Wood pass that went for 18 yards on third-and-16, the second was a Connor Wood-to-Gerald Thomas screen pass that went for 26 yards on third-and-18. It was Connor Wood's first play for the Buffs; the Texas transfer entered the game when Webb's helmet came off and he was, by rule, forced to sit for a down. He returned to the game on the following play.
CU's 28-24 lead held for the rest of the third quarter, but the start of the fourth found Sac State driving. The Hornets advanced to the Buffs' 14-yard line, where on third-and-three Safron threw incomplete. On fourth down, Castenada hit a 31-yard field to pull Sac State to within one (28-27) with 11:57 to play.
Just over halfway through the quarter, CU appeared to get a field position break on a shanked Sac State punt, but a personal foul penalty on Woodson Greer backed the Buffs up to their 19-yard line to open the drive.
With 8:15 remaining, CU's choices were get points or get rid of that time - or most of it. The Buffs did neither, punting back to the Hornets with 5:54 to play. Sac State took possession at its own 15 but advanced no further than its own 38 and punted.
At the 4:42 mark, CU took over at its 28 but kept possession for less than 2 minutes. Sac State got the ball at its 15 with 2:26 left and promptly got four consecutive first downs, moving to the CU 34 with 1:13 to play.
A pass interference call on freshman corner Kenneth Crawley moved the ball to the 28, and an 11-yard Safron-to-Morris Norrise carried the Hornets to the Buffs' 17 with 54 seconds left.
Three plays later, after Sac State had let the game clock run from :30 to :01 and called time out, Castenada kicked his game winner. It capped a nine-play, 72-yard drive and left the Buffs in shock and their season in disarray.
What was supposed to be the first month's easier portion is finished. The Buffs go on the road for their next two games, traveling to Fresno State next Saturday before opening Pac-12 Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 22 at Washington State.