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CU Buffs power past CSU Rams in Mel Tucker’s debut

Strong offense leads Buffs to fifth straight win over rival

  • Head Coach Mel Tucker celebrates the win with his players. CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Head Coach Mel Tucker celebrates the win with his players. CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Laviska Shenault with the Centennial Cup. CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Steven Montez kisses the Centennial Cup held by Head Coach Mel Tucker. CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Aaron Maddox and Laviska Shenault lift up the Centennial Cup. CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    The CU Marching Band has arrived at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Austin S., right, of the CU Marching Band, plays tuba with his mates during the Rocky Mountain Showdown pregame outside Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Matt Pabin, of the CU Marching Band, puts his heart into it during the Rocky Mountain Showdown pregame outside Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Jennie Bickel, left, and Adam Howkins, play cornhole at the Rocky Mountain Showdown pregame outside Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Josh Olson, of CSU, gets a photo with Cam the Ram during the Rocky Mountain Showdown pregame outside Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Ralphie Handler, Wes Weber, keeps the fans at a safe distance during the Rocky Mountain Showdown pregame outside Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Jennie Bickel, left, and Adam Howkins, play corn hole at the Rocky Mountain Showdown pregame outside Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Jalen Harris (9) celebrates his TD catch during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu, left, celebrates his interception with Sam Noyer during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Jalen Harris (9) celebrates his TD catch during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu makes an interception on Colorado State University's Warren Jackson during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Alex Fontenot breaks away during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Colorado State University's Dante Wright celebrates his touchdown catch with teammates during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Steven Montez on the run during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Colorado State University's Dante Wright makes a catch during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Alex Fontenot on a break away run during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Colorado State University's Dante Wright celebrates his touchdown catch with teammates during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Steven Montez on the run during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu, left, celebrates his interception with Derrick Abrams Jr. during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Head Coach Mel Tucker during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu makes an interception on Colorado State University's Warren Jackson during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Colorado State University's Dante Wright makes a touchdown catch past Delrick Abrams Jr. during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Head Coach Mel Tucker during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Ralphie on the run during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Steven Montez on the run during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Laviska Chenault Jr. argues for pass interference during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu makes an interception on Colorado State University's Warren Jackson during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Jalen Harris makes a catch past Colorado State University's Jamal Hicks during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Jalen Harris makes a catch past Colorado State University's Jamal Hicks during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu, left, celebrates his interception with Aaron Maddox during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Quarterback Steven Montez passes during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Steven Montez hugs head coach Mel Tucker. CU Buffalo players celebrate with the Centennial Cup after beating CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Tony Brown makes a catch in Colorado State University territory. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Mustafa Johnson scores a touchdown on a late Colorado State University turnover. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Mikial Onu (2) celebrates his interception with the bench. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Steven Montez finds a small opening against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Mustafa Johnson, left, and Chris Miller, celebrate the defensive touchdown. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Jalen Sami likes Mustafa Johnson's touchdown. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Alex Fontenot is hugged by Jalen Harris after another touchdown run. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Curtis Chiaverini looks to block for KD Nixon. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Laviska Shenault looks for an opening against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Carson Wells (26) goes up to block the Colorado State University field goal. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Mikial Onu (2) celebrates his interception with the bench. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault looks for an opening against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Mehki Blackmon takes down Colorado State University's Joshua Griffin. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s KD Nixon takes off with a pass. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Alex Fontenot (8) celebrates one of his touchdowns against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Tony Brown makes a catch in Colorado State University territory. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Davion Taylor, left, and Nate Landman takes down Colorado State University's Marvin Kinsey Jr. after a high snap. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Mustafa Johnson scores a touchdown on a late Colorado State University turnover. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Mehki Blackmon takes down Colorado State University's Joshua Griffin. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Ray Robinson and Chris Miller track down Dante Colorado State University's Wright. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Head Coach Mel Tucker applauds during the game. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    Colorado State University's Anthony Hawkins tries to spin away from University of Colorado's Delrick Abrams Jr. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Steven Montez passes against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Terrance Lang tries to bring down Colorado State University's Colin Hill. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s James Stefanou on the extra point. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Alex Fontenot goes in for another touchdown. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Ralph runs in Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Alex Fontenot (8) celebrates one of his touchdowns against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado’s Terrance Lang tries to bring down Colorado State University's Colin Hill.The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Ralph runs in Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Ralph runs in Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Head Coach Mel Tucker during the game against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado’s Athletic Director Rick George on the sidelines during the game against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Alex Fontenot (8) celebrates one of his touchdowns against Colorado State University. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Ralphie runs in Mile High Stadium. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Nico Magri, left, blocks for Alex Kinney. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Laviska Shenault gets around the end. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's William Sherman, left, watches Steven Montez take off on a run. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Alex Fontenot celebrates with Jalen Harris after another CU touchdown run. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Brady Russell blocks for Steven Montez. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Assistant coach Jimmy Brumbaugh talks to the team on the sidelines. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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    University of Colorado's Darrin Chiaverini, left, with Steven Montez on the sidelines. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Phillip Lindsay, center, talks with his former teammates before the game. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Darrin Chiaverini, left, with Steven Montez on the sidelines. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Juwann Winfree, right, says hello to Trey Udoffia before the game. The Buffaloes beat the Rams, 52-31, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado's Brady Russell blocks for Steven Montez. The Buffaloes beat CSU 52-31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

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PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

DENVER – For nine months, excitement for the Mel Tucker era at Colorado had plenty of time to grow.

Since he was hired in December, the first-year head football coach of the Buffaloes has talked about physicality, intensity, having no excuses and being relentless.

On Friday night, the new-look Buffs were unveiled to the world, and while it wasn’t a perfect product, it was an undisputed success.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
DENVER, CO – August 30, 2019: Steven Montez, of CU, on the run during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Mile High Stadium in Denver.(photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

CU’s defense was porous, but made up for it with four takeaways; Alex Fontenot rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns; and Steven Montez threw for a pair of scores, as the Buffaloes delivered a victory to Tucker in his debut, 52-31 against rival Colorado State in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

“It was very gratifying; not so much for me, but I just really felt good for the team, the players, and the coaches,” the always poised Tucker said after becoming just the third CU head coach since 1935 to win his debut. “All of the hard work that has been put into it, the belief in me, our coaching staff, and our process… then to see them go out and compete, and come out with a win, and it wasn’t easy.”

In the 19th and final Showdown in Denver – which started 37 minutes late  because of lightning delays – the Buffs won their fifth straight against the Rams and snapped an overall seven-game losing streak that dated back to last season.

“It feels good,” Montez said of CU’s first win since Oct. 6 of last year. “I heard it in high school and I always just keep it in the back of my head: It’s hard to win football games.”

Tucker was hired because the Buffs had struggled to win games the past two years. Back-to-back 5-7 seasons prompted a change – especially after turning last year’s 5-0 start into a disastrous finish.

“We knew when coach Tucker got here we were excited about him,” said Montez, who completed 13-of-20 passes for 232 yards. “We knew that he was going to bring a little bit different attitude, different mindset to our team and I think it showed up today. It showed up a lot. It showed up in the second half more than anything, especially on defense.”

CU had manhandled the Rams the previous three years, outscoring them 106-23 and really never being threatened by their rivals from Fort Collins. CSU had not even held a lead in the series since 2015.

In this one, the Rams held first-half leads of 14-10 and 21-17 by dominating the Buffs’ defense. CSU racked up 282 yards in total offense in the first half and finished the game with 505.

The Buffs held a tenuous 24-21 lead at intermission, but the game turned on the first play of the second half.

Safety Aaron Maddox stripped the ball from Rams’ running back Marvin Kinsey, with Jalen Sami recovering the fumble. Three plays later, Fontenot darted through the middle of the Rams’ defense for a 7-yard touchdown and made it a 10-point game.

“It was huge because we didn’t play very well in the first half,” Tucker said of the Buffs’ defense. “We had to make some adjustments at halftime. They didn’t flinch and there was never panic, even though we weren’t playing well at all. We were really hurting ourselves, but the players just continued to play the next play and not look at the scoreboard. The mental disposition towards competing and playing the next play really paid off for us tonight.”

That mental toughness has been a trademark of Tucker’s message since he was hired and it contributed to the defense forcing four turnovers – including two interceptions by safety Mikial Onu.

The final CSU turnover put the game away for the Buffs.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
DENVER, CO – August 30, 2019: Mikial Onu, left, celebrates his interception with Aaron Maddox during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Mile High Stadium in Denver.(photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

With about four minutes to play, CU linebacker Jonathan Van Diest flew into the Rams’ backfield untouched, drilled quarterback Collin Hill from behind and knocked the ball loose. Mustafa Johnson scooped it up and went 9 yards for a touchdown to give the Buffs a 21-point cushion.

“My first college touchdown – it was fun,” Johnson said.

The offense had plenty of fun, as well, finishing with 475 yards. It’s the first time since a 61-0 Buffs win in 1952 that CU hit the 50-point mark against the Rams, and the 83 total points scored were the most in the 91-game history of the series.

What mattered most to Tucker, however, was the win. He cradled the Centennial Cup in his arms as he walked to the locker room. It’s a reward for his first win, but nothing he will cherish for too long. As an assistant coach for more than 20 years, Tucker won a lot of big games and has the rings to prove it. But, each time, he enjoys the moment and  moves on to the next.

“It’s a starting point,” he said. “This is not the end; it’s just the beginning of our program.

“It’s a level of accomplishment—OK, job done, what’s next? ‘So what? Now what?’ That’s my mind set.”

Colorado 52, Colorado St. 31
Colorado St. 7 14 3 7 — 31
Colorado 7 17 14 14 — 52
First Quarter
COL — Harris 1 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 9:30
CSU — Wright 39 pass from Hill (Poduska kick), 6:42
Second Quarter
COL — FG Stefanou 41, 14:13
CSU — W.Jackson 8 pass from Hill (Poduska kick), 8:39
COL — Mangham 5 run (Stefanou kick), 5:37
CSU — Wright 41 run (Poduska kick), 1:35
COL — L.Shenault 25 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), :25
Third Quarter
COL — Fontenot 7 run (Stefanou kick), 13:47
CSU — FG Poduska 42, 4:30
COL — Fontenot 14 run (Stefanou kick), :00
Fourth Quarter
CSU — Butler 13 pass from Hill (Poduska kick), 12:13
COL — Fontenot 22 run (Stefanou kick), 9:16
COL — M.Johnson 9 fumble return (Stefanou kick), 3:57

CSU COL
First downs 27 23
Rushes-yards 31-131 40-243
Passing 374 232
Comp-Att-Int 31-47-2 13-20-0
Return Yards 80 38
Punts-Avg. 1-53.0 4-44.25
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-64 4-43
Time of Possession 32:55 27:05

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING — Colorado St., Wright 3-59, Kinsey 12-41, J.Thomas 7-29, Hunter 3-10, Hill 4-8, (Team) 2-(minus 16). Colorado, Fontenot 19-125, Mangham 11-40, Montez 5-39, L.Shenault 3-35, D.Smith 2-4.

PASSING Colorado St., Hill 31-47-2-374. Colorado, Montez 13-20-0-232.

RECEIVING — Colorado St., W.Jackson 8-87, Kinsey 5-69, Wright 4-72, Tr.McBride 4-52, J.Thomas 3-28, Prentice 2-20, Hall 2-18, Butler 2-17, Scott 1-11. Colorado, To.Brown 3-71, L.Shenault 3-48, Russell 2-44, Nixon 2-29, Harris 2-24, Stanley 1-16.