2001 Championship Revisited: Game 1 - Fresno State
In honoring the 2001 CU team that won the Big 12 Conference championship, CUBuffs.com will reprint weekly game stories that first appeared in the Rocky Mountain News and were written by B.G. Brooks, now the Contributing Editor for CUBuffs.com. The 2001 Buffs finished 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the Big 12 North, winning the division before defeating No. 3 Texas 39-37 in the conference championship game.
Ochs, CU Throw It All Away
By B.G. Brooks
Rocky Mountain News
BOULDER - Forced to stomach a 3-8 finish for the last nine months, the University of Colorado football team must digest another nasty helping of the same misery for at least the next six days.
Scoring 17 points after three of the Buffs' five turnovers, Fresno State stunned CU 24-22 on Sunday night in the inaugural Jim Thorpe Association Football Classic at Folsom Field.
CU lost its third consecutive opener under coach Gary Barnett, with two of the losses to intrastate rival Colorado State- the Buffs' opponent Saturday at Invesco Field at Mile High.
"I still think we have a chance to be a good football team," Barnett said. "Our seniors have to make sure we don't trip over this game. We can't have Fresno beat us twice."
Although they never led, the Buffs pulled within two points in the final 4 minutes and appeared poised for a triumphant finish. But like most of what they attempted this game, that also fizzled.
Quarterback Craig Ochs' third-down pass from the 2-yard line was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Devon Banks, denying CU a shot at a potential winning field goal on fourth down.
Barnett called the play, "safe, run-pass option... Craig tried to force it. We have a chance to win the game there. Craig's just a sophomore; this is the first game he's had like that."
Ochs completed 31 of 51 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns to senior John Minardi. But he also was intercepted twice and fumbled away two of CU's three lost fumbles on a bobbled snap in shotgun formation and a blind-side hit by safety Bryce McGillic.
Fresno State converted the second error into a touchdown and led 21-13 at halftime. CU had gotten as close as 14-7 on a 77-yard punt return by Roman Hollowell, but Fresno State quarterback David Carr engineered an 80-yard scoring drive to send the Bulldogs in front 21-13.
Pat Brougham, making his Division I-A debut in place of ineligible Jeremy Flores, had a first-half PAT attempt blocked. He hit a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter after missing from 50 yards in the first period.
Even after Ochs' devastating interception, CU stopped Fresno State on third-and-9 and believed it would get the ball for a final chance to win. But while a delay-of-game penalty cost Fresno State 5 yards, it offered Carr and Co. another chance, and his third-and-14 pass went for 17 yards to Marque Davis.
Fresno State, 0-8 against Big 12 Conference teams when the game started, held the ball until 1 minute, 12 seconds remained. After Hollowell chose to return the Bulldogs' punt rather than allow it to bounce into the end zone, the Buffs took possession at their 6-yard line.
They moved as far as their 35-yard line, where Ochs' fourth- down Hail Mary pass was intercepted by safety Cameron Worrell on the final play of the game.
"We just need to shake it off," Hollowell said. "It seemed in the first half we kept shooting ourselves in the foot, with dropped balls and turnovers."
The Buffs opened by playing mostly zone defense against Carr, who completed 21 of 36 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. But Barnett said that proved ineffective against Carr's three-step drop, so more man-to-man coverage was called for. But CU didn't have anyone to stay with Davis, who made eight receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown.
CU finally generated a pass rush in the second half and sacked Carr twice. But he still was effective enough to keep Buffs off-balance, and he and his offense didn't commit a turnover.
"I thought our kids played hard, valiantly, especially in the second half," Barnett said. "We had some decisions that went the wrong way... In the second half we played with a lot more emotion."
Fresno State coach Pat Hill said the key to the game "was that we just played hard. You have to make plays and step it up to win... What was good was to see how we took care of the football. I think we only put it on the ground once, and got that back."