It could have been a perfect script, and it was one that almost seemed fitting for all quarterback Sefo Liufau has endured during his record-setting Colorado football career.
Within a three-play span on the Buffaloes' opening drive of the Pac-12 Conference championship game Friday night, Liufau displayed the grit that has made his senior year one for Buffaloes lore. And yet in a season that has tested the limits of Liufau's impressive physical endurance, his injury two plays after a 25-yard run on third-and-two cast the Buffs' title dreams into doubt.
Once Liufau returned after halftime he was a shell of his usual self, and the biggest game in more than a decade for the Buffs quickly got out of hand in what turned out to be a dispiriting 41-10 loss.
It would be easy to criticize head coach Mike MacIntyre for putting Liufau back behind center when he clearly wasn't 100 percent. That criticism won't come from this corner.
Earlier this week MacIntyre expounded on the idea it was fitting that Liufau was the man to lead this unexpected run to the league title game, even notwithstanding the fact MacIntyre spent much of the spring trying to replace Liufau with Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb, who ultimately reneged on his commitment to CU before landing at Cal.
The remarkable growth of this CU team could be encapsulated in microcosm form in the growth of Liufau from a talented-but-inconsistent quantity to the unquestioned offensive leader who often put the Buffs on his ample shoulders throughout the 2016 campaign.
If Liufau was declared ready to go after halftime, when he made his return to a game in which the Buffs remained well-positioned despite getting outplayed in the first two quarters, then there is no question Liufau should have been sent back out there. Particularly since backup Steven Montez didn't exactly light up the box score by going 5-for-12 off the bench.
The decision was sound. The execution, not so much.
After throwing just three interceptions in 278 attempts all season going into the second half, Liufau threw two on consecutive attempts to Washington's Taylor Rapp, who also matched his season interception total in less than a minute and a half. Rapp returned the first one for a touchdown and Washington turned the next one into a field goal, turning CU's manageable 14-7 halftime deficit into a far more daunting 24-7 disadvantage.
It simply wasn't the Buffs' night, from Liufau's injury to superb cornerback Chidobe Awuzie surrendering his first touchdown of the season on a desperation heave by Washington quarterback Jake Browning. That play probably results in an Awuzie interception nine times out of 10. Even when the Buffs caught a break — Phillip Lindsay picking up Anthony Julmisse's midfield fumble on a kickoff return and advancing it to the two-yard line was the sort of thing that can spark a rally — CU couldn't take advantage, settling for a field goal when a touchdown could have made things interesting.
Liufau also matched his season interception total later in the third quarter when an off-target toss to Jay MacIntyre ended in the hands of Washington's Ezekiel Turner.
Still, the discouraging loss does nothing to diminish a season that will be remembered fondly in CU lore. The Buffs are going bowling for the first time in nine years. The Rose Bowl still is in play, though CU will have to cross its collective fingers in hopes that Washington not only remains in the College Football Playoff picture, but that the Rose officials still invite the Buffs over a USC team that finished strong, claiming victories over CU as well as Washington. The more likely scenario at this point is the Alamo Bowl.
Regardless of the destination, Liufau should be ready to go whenever the Buffs hit the field once again. By then the sting of Friday's disappointment at Levi's Stadium will have cooled. By then the latest round of Liufau's bumps, bruises, and strains should be healed.
Here's hoping he puts together a more fitting CU farewell than what he was able to do against Washington.