By Adam Thompson
Denver Post Sports Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2001 - BOULDER - The temporarily top-ranked, previously undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers left Folsom Field humbled like never before. Lifted by their 62-36 victory, the Colorado Buffaloes are headed for a place they've never been before - a Big 12 championship game.
If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State today, the Sooners will face the Buffaloes for the conference crown Dec. 1 in Irving, Texas. If OU should suffer an upset loss, the Buffs (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) face Texas. They now have the same league record as the Huskers (11-1 overall), but claim the division on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
It was on a July day in Dallas that CU coach Gary Barnett said anything less than what he now has would be a disappointment. His side trip to Texas Stadium with captains Andre Gurode and Michael Lewis on the way to the airport that day was well-documented.
But Barnett revealed Friday that his team also carried with it for every home and road game a ceramic model of the building. Each time the Buffaloes won, they placed another opponent's decal on that model. With pleasure, Barnett will add a sticker with a red "N," something he gave his seniors the most credit for.
"They are a group of guys who made a decision to find a way to get to Dallas," he said. "I knew they were going to play well. We just needed everybody to play as hard as I knew they were going to play, and that was sort of our appeal."
The scores were too many to recount. To sum up, Colorado scored a lot, then both teams scored a lot, then Colorado scored some more.
The Buffaloes started the day by tying the record for points scored on the Cornhuskers in one quarter, 28. Then, they broke Nebraska's record for most points surrendered in a half, 42. But even with a 35-3 lead, the game was not safe.
CU may have hung 582 yards on a sixth-ranked defense that had averaged 260.4 yards per game, sixth in the country. But like their guests, the Buffs' faulty defense also gave away yards, 552 of them.
The Buffaloes had every reason to be nervous when Eric Crouch scored on a 6-yard option keeper 4 minutes, 17 seconds into the third quarter to make the score 42-30. But CU's defense forced a punt on Nebraska's next drive, and the offense responded with a 93-yard drive of its own, capped by a 1-yard Chris Brown touchdown.
That was Brown's fourth touchdown of the game. He had two more in store, giving him six touchdowns, or one for every two carries he'd seen in the previous four games and two short of an NCAA record. A school record - the previous was four - would have to suffice.
"It was easy," the sophomore said of his 198-yard day. "That's all I have to say. When you have guys up front like we do, who make dominating blocks and open those gaping holes, it makes it very easy for us tailbacks. All I had to do was run through and get to the end zone."
Tailback Bobby Purify saw his share of holes, too, on the way to 154 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. And tight end Daniel Graham, playing with broken ribs, added 112 receiving yards on four catches and a touchdown.
"It was like a fairy tale," Cornhusker cornerback Keyuo Craver said. "Everything CU did was right. There is nothing I can say to discourage CU."
Crouch did his share of damage, rushing for 162 yards on 18 carries, but with the Cornhuskers down late and forced to pass, he did not fare as well. He finished 13 for 28 with two interceptions.
Those picks, by Lewis and Joey Johnson, came in the fourth quarter to squelch any ideas of a comeback that, if successful, would have made CU's recent inches-short losses to Nebraska look painless. The Buffs forced another huge second-half turnover earlier, when Donald Strickland induced Husker back Dahrran Diedrick to fumble while diving for the end zone.
Unofficially, Lewis and linebacker Sean Tufts led the Buffs in tackles, with 11 each.
"I feel badly for the players and for everyone associated with the program to have our season end this way. We'll just try to move on and get ready for the bowl game," said Nebraska coach Frank Solich, whose team entered ranked second in both major polls and first in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The best his team can now hope for is an at-large BCS berth.
Barnett declined to speculate on what this victory meant to the program.
"I wish Fred was here to tell us," he said, referring to Fred Casotti, the longtime Buffs historian who died during the season.
This much is certain - win one more game, and the Buffaloes will not depend on the charity of bowl committees. They will have earned an automatic berth, most likely to the Fiesta Bowl.
"Michael (Lewis) and I talked about memories, and we truly believed we would be back," Gurode said of Texas Stadium.
After earning one of the most satisfying wins in school history, the first over a No. 1 team, and fighting through a field of celebrating fans to get to his locker room, the senior was not satisfied.