As he walked away from the podium after his postgame press conference on Saturday, Mel Tucker left with some parting words.
“What a different a week makes, right?” he said.
Seven days after an emotionally-charged overtime win against long-time rival Nebraska, the Colorado Buffaloes were smacked with a dose of humility after a 30-23 overtime loss to Air Force at Folsom Field.
Like last week, the Buffs rose from the dead to produce a thrilling finish and force overtime. Unlike last week, the Buffs couldn’t complete the job.
Kadin Remsberg scored on a 25-yard touchdown run on the first play of overtime, and then the Falcons (2-0) stuffed the Buffs (2-1) on offense to secure the win in their first trip to Boulder in 46 years.
The first loss of the Mel Tucker era left the head coach with no excuses, but plenty of work ahead of him.
“Execution, for us, is what is lacking on a consistent basis,” Tucker said.
There were times on Saturday when the Buffaloes looked unstoppable on offense and stout on defense. Most of the day, however, it was a struggle.
CU was flagged four times for false start on offense; quarterback Steven Montez struggled throughout the day; the offensive line had its roughest outing of the season. On defense, the Buffs gave up big plays once again and had trouble stopping the Falcons run game – as most teams do – and they even missed an extra point for the first time in nearly three years.
“It’s death by inches,” Tucker said. “One guy has a lack of execution on any particular play there’s a good chance you won’t have successful play. Our job right now as coaches is we have to find ways and find out why we’re not as consistent as we need to be. We’ll do that.”
Coming off the dramatic win against Nebraska, the Buffs had to guard against a letdown, but Tucker and players insisted that was not an issue.
“I just feel like we didn’t execute today, especially on offense and a lot of that, plain and simple, it’s on me,” said Montez, who went 26-of-43 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Montez and the Buffs jumped to a 10-0 lead just 7:37 into the game, but the offense went dormant for a while after that. Four of the next five CU possessions ended with a punt, the other with a Montez interception.
Air Force, meanwhile, was nearly unstoppable. The Falcons went on scoring drives of 75, 78 and 80 yards. AFA quarterback DJ Hammond III threw touchdown passes of 32 yards (to Geraud Sanders) and 81 yards (to Ben Waters) and he also ran for a 2-yard score.
All of that led to a stunning 20-10 Falcons lead at the half. The only time they didn’t score, they turned the ball over.
CU’s defense was better in the second half – for the third week in a row – but when the Falcons took a 23-10 lead with 10:23 to play in the fourth, the Buffs appeared to be buried.
Montez and the Buffs rallied, though. He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Stanley to pull the Buffs within 23-16 (only to have the extra point blocked). Then, with 28 seconds left in regulation, Laviska Shenault scored on a 2-yard run to tie the game.
In overtime, Air Force regained the momentum on Remsberg’s touchdown run and the Buffs were unable to rally again.
“Eventually if you don’t execute, it’s going to catch up to you and that’s what happened today,” Tucker said. “Our guys fought and I knew they would and they played hard and they didn’t quit, but it’s not about that. It’s not about playing hard and giving great effort. It’s about being able to execute for four quarters, 60 minutes in a game, plus being able to finish.
“We have good enough players at enough positions to get the job done and you can see that during games. These three games that we’ve played … you can point and say ‘That’s good football; those guys look good there; that’s the way you play defense; that’s the way you execute on offense.’ There’s times where you say, ‘That’s bad ball.’ Eliminating bad football is what we have to do.”
The Buffs also have to figure out to turn the page on their first loss under Tucker and regroup for the start of Pac-12 play next week at Arizona State.
Air Force 30, Colorado 23 (OT)
Play of the game: At the conclusion of CU’s opening drive of the game, Steven Montez hit receiver Laviska Shenault for a short pass, and Shenault broke loose from a pair of Air Force defenders to go 42 yards for a touchdown. It was the biggest play of the year for Shenault, who had his best game.
Turning point: On the first play of overtime, Air Force’s Kadin Remsberg took the ball and went around the edge for a 25-yard touchdown run. That halted CU’s momentum and proved to be the game-winning score.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. Laviska Shenault: The junior receiver had a breakout game with eight catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 25 yards and a touchdown.
2. Mikial Onu: A takeaway machine this year, he had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
3. Dimitri Stanley: Just 35 yards receiving, but he caught five passes, including the first touchdown of his career.
Air Force 30, Colorado 23
Air Force 6 14 0 3 7 — 30
Colorado 10 0 0 13 0 — 23
COL — L.Shenault 42 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 9:37
COL — FG Stefanou 36, 7:23
AF — G.Sanders 32 pass from Hammond (kick failed), 4:03
AF — Hammond 2 run (Koehnke kick), 10:27
AF — B.Waters 81 pass from Hammond (Koehnke kick), 6:37
AF — FG Koehnke 47, 10:23
COL — Stanley 13 pass from Montez (kick failed), 6:09
COL — L.Shenault 2 run (Stefanou kick), :28
AF — Remsberg 25 run (Koehnke kick), :00
First downs 22 19
Rushes-yards 52-289 32-105
Passing 155 220
Comp-Att-Int 7-12-1 26-43-1
Return Yards 4 17
Punts-Avg. 2-40.5 4-38.75
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 3-0
Penalties-Yards 4-30 6-35
Time of Possession 34:04 25:56
RUSHING — Air Force, Remsberg 23-146, Birdow 12-67, T.Jackson 6-27, Hammond 6-22, Eriksen 3-18, B.Waters 1-6, (Team) 1-3. Colorado, Mangham 10-56, Fontenot 13-42, L.Shenault 3-25, D.Smith 1-2, Stanley 1-0, (Team) 2-(minus 4), Montez 2-(minus 16).
PASSING — Air Force, Hammond 7-12-1-155. Colorado, Montez 26-43-1-220.
RECEIVING — Air Force, G.Sanders 4-56, B.Waters 2-92, Waguespack 1-7. Colorado, L.Shenault 8-124, Stanley 5-35, Harris 4-22, Nixon 3-20, Brown 2-20, Mangham 2-(minus 1), Russell 1-2, Fontenot 1-(minus 2).