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Bieniemy Rescues Buffs
Story by Craig Harper
BOULDER --- When the University of Colorado football team is down and needs a lift, who ya gonna call?
Eric Bieniemy, that’s who.
Just when Oregon State appeared to be “ghost-busting” up CU’s dream start of the 1988 season, Bieniemy came to the rescue.
The sophomore tailback answered Oregon State’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter with a 66-yard scoring run of his own that put CU back on top by one point with 9:16 left.
Later, he sealed Colorado’s 28-21 great escape with runs of 21, 13 and 15 yards as the Buffs scored again with no time remaining to stay unbeaten at 3-0.
“When you have to have it, he can deliver,” CU head coach Bill McCartney said.
McCartney waited for the right time to call on Bieniemy, who bruised his right shoulder and did not play the second and third series of the third quarter.
“I rested Bieniemy and told him to be ready for the fourth quarter,” McCartney said.
He was, and as a result Bieniemy delivered like only four Buffs have before him. Bieniemy scored on touchdown runs of 45, 4, and 66 yards while rushing for 211 yards on just 20 carries - the fifth-best rushing game in school history.
“That’s good,” Bieniemy said, “but the most important thing is the character of our team. We were down and came through at the end.”
That is becoming a CU trademark this season.
Saturday’s game seemed to be a carbon copy of last week’s 24-21 win at Iowa. In both cases, the Buffs stormed ahead early, were badly outplayed in the middle portions, then roared back with an impressive scoring drive (two in this case) to claim victory.
“What I saw at the end of the game was an offense that reached back and performed at a high level,” McCartney said.
Thanks to Bieniemy’s 66-yard touchdown run through the left side of the Colorado offensive line.
The Buffs had squandered a 16-7 halftime lead because of the pinpoint passing of Oregon’s State quarterback Erik Wilhelm, who picked apart a CU defense that was minus three starters for 353 yards by hitting 27 of 38 passes and two touchdowns, and miserable third-quarter field position for their offense.
The vastly improved Beavers, now 2-2, went ahead 21-16 on Brian Swanson’s 1-yard run with 11:04 remaining, less than four minutes after CU’s Michael Jones stuffed Brian Taylor short of a first down inside the CU 1.
“That was a great momentum shift,” Jones said of the goal-line stand. “Our backs were against the wall and we had to make a play.”
Maybe so, but Bieniemy’s touchdown run firmly planted old “Mo” on Colorado’s side.
“Exactly,” said quarterback Sal Aunese. “We didn’t have a lot of emotion, but that play pumped us up.”
It was a simple off-tackle play, much like the 52-yarder he broke on the first play of the second half in Iowa.
“I just cut off (left guard Joe) Garten’s block and it was smooth sailing,” said Bieniemy, who this season, has touchdown runs of 35, 45 and 66 yards while amassing 482 yards rushing (7.2 per carry) in three games.
Actually, Bieniemy veered left to get past two OSU defenders, then outraced cornerback Calvin Nicholson into the end zone. After some confusion, during which Colorado had to spend a timeout, the Buffs went for the two-point conversion, but failed, leaving Oregon State a field goal away from victory.
“We had been waiting for big plays instead of making them,” Garten said. “It sure looked like everybody was waiting for a big play.”
Big plays now are almost expected from Bieniemy.
“Oh, every time,” Garten said. “If you make a block, he’ll go right through it. A guy might get a hand on him, but you can’t arm tackle him. He’s a bowling ball with legs.”
Bieniemy, who fumbled on his first carry of the game, said, “I have to come through with big plays because they’re counting on me.”
Once Bieniemy put CU ahead, the Buffs were a different team than the one that was outgained 197-55 yard from the start of the third quarter until Swanson’s touchdown run.
The Buffs stuffed one potential OSU scoring drive when Jones jarred the ball loose from intended receiver Phil Ross on third down from the CU 45.
Beaver punter Mark Bennett put Colorado in a hole at the 5, but a 19-yard pass to wingback M.J. Nelson got the Buffs to the 25, and from there Bieniemy went to work. His 15-yard run carried to the OSU 8, and on third down from the 11, Aunese went around the right side for the game’s final six points.
The way Oregon State was passing, the Buffs couldn’t feel safe with a one-point lead.
“Some teams you don’t match up with as well as others, and that was a little bit the case out there today, particularly the way we wanted to defense them,” McCartney said. “I thought (Wilhelm) played real well against us, and he just mixed things up enough to keep us off-balance. And when we did blitz him, he got us in man coverage.”
That’s how Wilhelm hit Jason Kent with a 48-yard scoring pass to tie the game at 7-7 following Bieniemy’s 45-yard scoring run with an option pitch in the first quarter.
Still, the Buffs led 13-7 after Bieniemy’s 4-yard scoring run (set up by a 52-yard pass to wingback Mike Pritchard), and 16-7 after Eric Hannah’s 26-yard field goal following a 67 yard pass to Jeff Campbell.
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