It was uncharted territory for James Stefanou. And in what arguably were the biggest pressure kicks of his 14 games with the Colorado Buffaloes, an ailing Stefanou was unable to convert.
Working with a new holder in a raucous road environment with potential fourth-quarter lead changes in the balance proved too cumbersome for the Buffs' 31-year old sophomore kicker, as the usually-dependable Stefanou missed two fourth-quarter field goal attempts Saturday at Nebraska. Yet Stefanou's teammates were able to pick him up in an exhilarating 33-28 win, and he reports he simply is getting back to work this week with his confidence fully intact as the Buffs prepare for their home opener Saturday against New Hampshire (3 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).
While Stefanou on Tuesday didn't admit to any physical issues, during his weekly press luncheon head coach Mike MacIntyre said Stefanou suffered a minor groin injury on the PAT following Jay MacIntyre's second touchdown of the game late in the third quarter — a setback MacIntyre was unaware of before Stefanou missed a pair of fourth-quarter field goal attempts that would have given the Buffs the lead.
Stefanou has not kicked in practice early this week and MacIntyre indicated his status is uncertain for Saturday.
"I didn't know it at the time. We might've gone with another kicker later on...but he felt he could kick through it," coach MacIntyre said. "That kind of happens sometimes. He's an excellent kicker, and I guarantee that in that situation next time he'll make those kicks when he's completely healthy.
"If you watch the film, (Stefanou) was kind of going across the ball because his leg was tight instead of going up through it. Hopefully that doesn't happen in the future and hopefully he'll be fine."
Stefanou's possible absence at Folsom Field Saturday leaves coach MacIntyre in somewhat of a kicking conundrum. Normally, junior Davis Price would slide seamlessly into the placekicker role, but Price suddenly has a sizeable workload on his plate. Already the Buffs' kickoff specialist, Price is set to take over at punter after senior Alex Kinney suffered a broken collarbone at Nebraska. Sophomore quarterback Josh Goldin has taken over for Kinney as the holder.
MacIntyre said Price's younger brother, true freshman Evan Price, is competing for the placekicking duties this week. CU's leader jokingly described it as a battle to see which "Price is right," but if the younger Price can carry the load against New Hampshire, he could play the role of substitute if Stefanou is unable to go.
MacIntyre also noted the NCAA's new redshirt rules, which allow a player to compete in up to four games and still retain a year of eligibility, is allowing for greater flexibility in possibly using Evan Price without burning an entire season of eligibility.
"If Evan can handle it, it might be better," MacIntyre said. "We'll make a decision on Thursday and go with it depending on where James is at."
The fourth-quarter misses at Nebraska marked the first time Stefanou has been errant on two field goal attempts in the same game, not including a pair that were blocked last year against USC. It also was the first time in 25 previous field goal attempts with the Buffs that Stefanou was tasked with turning a deficit into a lead, though Stefanou did connect on a pair of second-half field goals last year at UCLA that trimmed four-point deficits to one.
"It happens. These games are going to happen," Stefanou said. "You get back to work, you work hard, and you go back out there and you just make your kicks. There was a bit of adversity we went through during the game, losing Alex as a holder. I love that pressure, and to be honest I didn't focus on that at all. We reviewed on film and got back to work. The moment didn't get to me at all."