BOULDER - For the second time in just over two years, Colorado got all they could handle from a Big Sky Conference team before rallying past Eastern Washington 31-24 Saturday.
Cornerback Cha'pelle Brown picked off a pass and returned it 27 yards to break a 24-24 tie with less than two minutes left.
"Whew!" Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said when asked for a statement to start his post-game news conference.
What more needed to be said?
The Buffaloes (2-0) have played just two Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) teams in their history. In 2006, they lost to Montana State 19-10 in Hawkins' debut, and a loss in this game could have been even more devastating because the Buffs program finally has its footing under Hawkins.
The Buffaloes swore they saw this coming.
"These guys are a better team than Montana State was and I knew from watching film that this was going to be a dogfight," Buffaloes safety Ryan Walters said. "We knew with the whole Montana State thing that the decal doesn't matter. They're men just like we are and they're going to play just like we're going to play."
The Eagles (0-2) led 21-7 at halftime, 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter and were still ahead by a touchdown after Felipe Macias' 52-yard field goal gave them a 24-17 lead with 3:52 remaining.
"We feel like one slipped away," Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said.
The Buffs went 57 yards in five plays to tie it with 2:05 left, the payoff coming on Cody Hawkins' TD toss to fullback Jake Behrens from 2 yards out.
Two plays later, Brown gave the Buffaloes their first lead when he trotted into the end zone after picking off Matt Nichols' pass.
Junior Chap'elle Brown scored the game
winning touchdown with this fourth
"He's so short, probably the quarterback didn't see him," Walters said of the 5-foot-7 Brown who reverted to his days as a high school scat back in avoiding tacklers on his way in for six.
"As soon as he caught it I just put my hands up because I knew it was going to be a touchdown."
The Buffs couldn't breathe easy until safety D.J. Dykes' interception in the end zone with 3 seconds left. Nichols finished 32-of-51 for 303 yards and a touchdown.
Hawkins completed 28-of-38 passes for 261 yards, three TDs and one interception, which also was returned for a score.
Hawkins' 1-yard toss to Ryan Deehan in the back of the end zone started the comeback after Josh Smith atoned for an earlier fumbled return by bringing back a punt 51 yards to the Eagles' 4 in the third quarter.
Aric Goodman's 32-yard field goal cut the Buffs' deficit to 21-17.
The Eagles opened with a nine-play, 84-yard touchdown drive, the payoff coming when Brynsen Brown hauled in a pass 23 yards downfield, then dragged defender Jalil Brown 20 yards into the end zone.
Smith caught a 9-yard touchdown pass that tied it at 7, but he coughed up the ball after a 23-yard punt return at the Buffs' 27 and that led to Toke Kefu's 1-yard plunge that gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown that put the Eagles up 21-7.
The Buffs adjusted at halftime and the Eagles' no-huddle, spread offense quit giving them fits. In the second half, the Eagles punted on their first four possessions, hit the one long field goal and ended the day with the two pickoffs.
"I think we started off a little slow," Brown said. "But it doesn't matter how you start, it matters how you finish, and I think we finished well."