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Rodney Stewart, Tyler Hansen lead CU Buffs to win on Senior Day
Colorado earns first home win in last chance at Folsom Field
By Kyle Ringo, Camera Sports Writer
11/12/2011 03:45:29 PM MST
Colorado's Rodney Stewart celebrates a touchdown Saturday. (Cliff Grassmick)
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On the most windy game day at Folsom Field since 1995, the Colorado football team finally found itself on the good side of a lopsided score Saturday afternoon, snapping a seven-game losing streak and earning the first Pac-12 Conference victory in the school's history.
Coach Jon Embree and 28 members of the senior class were able to walk off their home field with a smile on their faces for the first time all season after beating Arizona 48-29. It was just what Embree had hoped for on senior day.
And it led to one of the most memorable postgame press conferences in school history.
After spending much of the season talking about playing for the seniors, winning for the seniors and how tough a road the seniors have traveled, Embree brought every member of the senior class to the meeting room in the basement of the Dal Ward Center where he usually meets with media members following games.
It was crowded but it added a nice touch to a memorable day.
"Great win for our program, first Pac-12 win," Embree said. "These seniors, they did it. That is why I brought them in here with me because it is for them. It is about them. I'm proud of these guys. I love them."
The Buffs avoided becoming the first CU team ever to go winless during a season at Folsom Field by securing Embree's first career coaching victory over a team from a BCS conference. The Buffs hadn't won since beating Colorado State in Denver on Sept. 18.
CU seniors shined all over the field Saturday.
Senior running back Rodney Stewart ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Tyler Hansen and finished the game with 204 all-purpose yards. Following what might have been the best game of his career, he was awarded the Buffalo Heart Award by fans of the program who sit behind the home bench.
But he was not alone.
Senior wide receiver Toney Clemons produced his second straight 100-yard receiving day, senior quarterback Tyler Hansen caught his first career touchdown pass and looked like the Hansen of old making plays with his feet, rushing for 50 yards. Senior defenders Travis Sandersfeld, Patrick Mahnke, Jason Espinoza and Josh Hartigan led the best defensive effort of the season.
The Buffs had allowed five consecutive opponents to score more than 40 points and rack up more than 500 yards of total offense. This time it was the Colorado offense boasting those gaudy numbers.
Winds were gusting as high as 35 mph at kickoff and increased to as much as 71 mph in the second half. Throwing and kicking toward the south end of the stadium proved challenging, which helped the Buffs contain the No. 4 passing offense in the nation.
The wind and the fact that the teams had combined for a 3-16 record coming into the game left the stadium at least one-third empty most of the day. The announced attendance was 48,111, but it didn't spoil the moment for the Buffs when the clock finally hit zero.
"It means a lot," said Hansen, who cried before the game. "We have gone through thick and thin, this group behind me has gone through a lot. We have been tested.
"I was a wreck before the game. We all were. To go out with a win is special."
Arizona lost for the seventh consecutive time on the road, a streak that dates back to late last season.
Colorado knows the feeling. The Buffs have the nation's longest road losing streak at 22 consecutive games and 23 games played outside the state. Embree was so energized by seeing his team win and succeed, he essentially guaranteed the streak will come to an end either next week at UCLA or the following week at Utah.
The trip to UCLA will be fascinating because Embree's son, Taylor, is a senior wide receiver there and former Buffs Kai Maiava and Josh Smith play in Westwood. Also noteworthy is that ex-CU coach Rick Neuheisel leads the Bruins.
"Now next for us is the road losing streak and we are going to end it," Embree said. "These guys are going to end it. I couldn't be prouder of these guys."
Saturday's win was the most complete team effort of the season for Colorado.
The CU offense marched 80 yards in six plays on its first possession and Stewart outraced Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson around the right end to score from five yards out. And with that, the Buffs never trailed.
Colorado had eight touchdown drives of 80 yards or more all season before Saturday. The Buffs produced three such drives against the Wildcats. CU was ranked last in the nation in red zone offense prior to Saturday, but went 7-for-7 inside the 20, scoring touchdowns each time.
All three CU tailbacks -- Stewart, Tony Jones and Josh Ford -- scored first-half touchdowns as the Buffs grabbed a 20-10 lead. They stretched the lead to 34-10 midway through the third quarter on Clemons touchdown catch and a halfback pass from Stewart to Hansen that covered 14 yards.
It was the second touchdown pass of Stewart's career and the first touchdown catch for Hansen.
"Every time we practiced that play all week it was a duck," Hansen joked about Stewart's throws. In the game, Stewart's pass was a nice, tight spiral.
With Denver Broncos vice president John Elway on hand, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles rallied his team in the second half. The Wildcats scored on an interception return for a touchdown by Tra-Mayne Bondurant and an 11-yard pass from Foles to David Douglas.
They also executed an onside kick putting the Buffs back on their heels, but senior defensive back Jason Espinoza changed the momentum with CU's third interception of Foles in the game.
Stewart scored twice in the final 8 minutes and the Buffs were finally able to sing the fight song on their home field.
"We have had some big highlights in our careers, but this one rates as one of the top with all the work we put into it," senior defensive back Travis Sandersfeld said.
He and fellow senior Patrick Mahnke combined for 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.
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