CU 41, Northern Colorado 21
How it happened: After scoring 28 in a row to take a 28-7 lead, CU let the Bears back into it. UNC pulled within 28-21 in the second half before CU locked down on defense and tacked on some late points to pull away. While the defense was a bit shaky, the offense had its best day of the season, with 569 yards and 41 points.
Turning point: CU took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but it was an impressive, 10-play, 85-yard drive, capped by a Steven Montez-to-Jay MacIntyre touchdown pass, that gave CU some breathing room. Montez was 5-for-6 for 58 yards and ran for 11 yards on that drive.
CU's stars of the game
QB Steven Montez: The sophomore completed 29 of 41 passes for a career-high 357 yards and a career-high four TDs. He also ran for 68 yards.
WR Devin Ross: He caught eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
OLB Derek McCartney: Finished with four tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss.
Bottom line: The Buffs are 3-0 for the first time since 2008. While it hasn't been a pretty 3-0, it's been enough to get the job done as they head into Pac-12 play next week.
Having won the Pac-12 South title a year ago, with its first 10-win season in 15 years, the Colorado football team came into this year looking for nothing less.
In fact, the Buffaloes are aiming for more.
Given the rising expectations, many expected the first three games of this season to be a cakewalk for the Buffs.
They certainly haven't been as easy as expected, but after a 41-21 win against Northern Colorado on Saturday at Folsom Field, the Buffs are 3-0 for the first time since 2008.
"There's obviously some things that we can improve on, which there's going to be the whole entire season," sophomore quarterback Steven Montez said. "But, I think right now I'm pretty happy with where we are right now.
"We ended up walking out of there with a victory, so that's really all that matters to me, to be honest."
True, getting the win was the ultimate goal, and the Buffs have accomplished that goal every week to this point. Yet, Saturday's game — combined with a couple of shaky wins against Colorado State and Texas State — didn't do much to raise the confidence level of Buff fans.
Sixth-ranked Washington will be in Boulder next Saturday to open Pac-12 play, and that's a scary proposition for a CU fan base that just watched its team battle to beat UNC, which isn't projected to finish in the top six of the Big Sky Conference.
The Buffs, however, aren't feeling the same trepidation after their three nonconference games.
"We're going to be ready for Pac-12 play," head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Whether the Buffs were ready for the Bears, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision, is up for debate.
Expected to make quick work of UNC, the Buffs found themselves in a tight game in the second half. It wasn't until the final nine minutes that CU finally put the Bears away.
It was a 10-point game until Montez threw a touchdown pass to Jay MacIntyre with 8 minutes, 35 seconds to play and James Stefanou added a field goal six minutes later to give the Buffs some breathing room.
"They're competitors, just like we are," Montez said of UNC. "Nobody wants to come out and get embarrassed. They played very, very, very good today. I think they came out to play."
Offensively, CU had its best day of the season.
Montez threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns — both career highs — connecting with four different receivers for those scores. He also ran for 68 yards.
"He played much better," MacIntyre said.
Running back Phillip Lindsay added 151 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Devin Ross led the receivers with eight catches for 143 yards and his first touchdown in nearly a year.
"I was pleased with the way the offense got after it and did some things," MacIntyre said.
If not for two turnovers inside the UNC 30-yard line — a Montez interception and a Michael Adkins II fumble — the Buffs might have made this one a little less interesting.
Defensively, meanwhile, the Buffs looked off for the first time this season.
CU didn't allow a touchdown in the first two games, but UNC needed just six plays to find the end zone, on a 33-yard pass from Jacob Knipp to Alex Wesley.
The Buffs responded with 28 unanswered points, as they appeared to be on their way to a rout.
Costly CU mistakes helped the Bears get back into it, though.
After Montez's interception, a targeting call on CU safety Afolabi Laguda kept a UNC drive alive late in the first half. The Bears capitalized to pull within 28-14.
Two more CU penalties on the opening drive of the third quarter aided UNC on another scoring drive to cut the Buffs' lead to 28-21.
"We didn't come out very hard today and UNC played really hard and that was one thing that was just different between us," outside linebacker Derek McCartney said. "(On defense) we just didn't come ready to play and we have to get better.
"We're not really proud of the way we played, but you learn from it and that's what we're going to do."
Asked about McCartney saying the Buffs weren't ready on defense, MacIntyre said, "That's not true. Derek doesn't know what he's talking about. We gave up two long balls. If you take away those two long balls and three late hit penalties ... they don't have very many yards at all.
"So, I disagree with what Derek was saying there."
Still, the big plays and the penalties did happen, and they contributed to CU - and its fans - sweating through this one a little more than many anticipated.
Credit the Buffs for taking care of business, however. The schedule gets a lot more difficult in a week, but the Buffs are unbeaten as they embark on defending their Pac-12 South title.
"We're excited about playing Pac-12 (games)," MacIntyre said. "We're excited about Washington coming in here."
Colorado 41, Northern Colorado 21Northern Colorado 7 7 7 0 — 21
Colorado 14 13 3 1 0 —41
First quarter: NOCO — Wesley 33 pass from Knipp (Root kick), 11:08 COL — Ross 4 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 9:19 COL — P.Lindsay 5 run (Stefanou kick), 8:01Second quarter: COL — Fields 28 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 8:21 COL — Bobo 29 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 4:23 NOCO — Wesley 52 pass from Knipp (Root kick), 1:23 Third quarter: NOCO — McCauley 27 pass from Knipp (Root kick), 12:28 COL — FG Stefanou 33, 4:30 Fourth quarter: COL — MacIntyre 14 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 8:35 COL — FG Stefanou 34, 2:15 A — 44,318.NOCO COL
First downs 18 30
Rushes-yards 31-71 39-212
Passing 202 357
Comp-Att-Int 20-37-1 29-41-1
Return Yards 10 40
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 7-60 14-114
Time of Possession 28:34 31:26
RUSHING — N. Colorado, Riek 17-59, Knipp 6-14, A.Davis 4-10, Deggs 1-9, Z.Lindsay 1-5, Verna 0-0, F.Stephens 1-0, (Team) 1-(minus 26). Colorado, P.Lindsay 26-151, Montez 10-68, Adkins 1-(minus 1), (Team) 2-(minus 6).
PASSING — N. Colorado, Knipp 19-34-1-202, Regan 1-3-0-0. Colorado, Montez 29-41-1-357.
RECEIVING — N. Colorado, Deggs 6-45, Wesley 5-102, F.Stephens 2-20, Verna 2-7, McCauley 1-27, Vinson 1-7, Sol 1-0, Onic 1-(minus 2), Riek 1-(minus 4). Colorado, Ross 8-143, Fields 8-69, Bobo 6-77, MacIntyre 4-53, Shenault 1-9, Evans 1-6, P.Lindsay 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.