TEMPE, Ariz. – The odds in Las Vegas had the Colorado Buffaloes losing on Saturday night.
History suggested the Buffaloes would lose.
If that wasn’t enough of a hill to climb, the Buffs lost their most explosive player on offense and their most disruptive player on defense to first quarter injuries.
“Yeah, we had all the odds stacked against us,” senior quarterback Steven Montez said. “It’s a good thing that we don’t listen to the odds.”
Against all logic, the Buffs left Sun Devil Stadium late Saturday night with a 34-31 victory against 24th-ranked Arizona State after a 44-yard James Stefanou field goal in the closing minutes capped a back-and-forth contest.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” CU head coach Mel Tucker said. “It was a hard a hard-fought win for us. It’s just a credit to the competitive character of this football team.”
Going into Saturday, the Buffs (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) were 0-5 all-time against ASU in Sun Devil Stadium. It had also been 17 years, to the day, since CU had defeated a ranked opponent away from Folsom Field; a remarkably ugly 0-35 mark since a 31-17 win at UCLA on Sept. 21, 2002.
“It’s another game,” Montez said. “Just another game.”
This one presented some unique challenges, however, as the Buffs had to overcome the loss of receiver Laviska Shenault (undisclosed injury) and defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson (ankle). They had several other players go down throughout the course of the night; some of them returned and some didn’t.
“It’s a no excuses, no explanation program,” said Tucker, who joined Rick Neuheisel as the only coaches in CU history to win their first two games against ranked opponents. “At the end of the day, nobody cares (about injuries being an excuse); you know, it’s, get the job done, play hard, execute. And, and that’s really the bottom line.”
An unexpected offensive shootout developed between the Buffs and Sun Devils (3-1, 0-1), who came into the night ranking second nationally in scoring defense.
After trading punches all night, Stefanou’s 44-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 3 seconds to play gave the Buffs a three-point lead, and then the Buffs’ defense came through with suffocating stop of the Sun Devils.
Terrance Lang’s sack of ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels – the only sack of the night for either team – with 1:44 to play highlighted the defensive stand, which allowed the offense to melt the final 99 seconds off the clock.
“I was telling T-Lang the whole game nobody could block him,” CU outside linebacker Carson Wells said. “And he came through on the last drive and got a sack.”
A week earlier, the Buffs left their home field with a humbling 30-23 overtime loss to Air Force, a result that put a damper on what had been a great start to Mel Tucker’s first season. While some people outside the program may have worried, those on the inside did not.
“I really like this football team,” Tucker said. “I see them every day, I see what they do. I see how they compete.
“We talked about it before the game that I wanted the game to go down to the wire and I wanted us to be able to win the game at the end. I told them that. So that was what I wanted to see. I wanted to prove that we could beat a good football team on the road in a tight ball game and that we could get the job done.”
CU got the job done, led by Montez, who threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns – all to Tony Brown, who caught a career-high nine passes for 150 yards.
ASU came in having allowed just 21 points in its first three games – seven points to each opponent – and the Sun Devils had not allowed a single point in the first three quarters of any game.
The Buffs piled up 34 points and 477 yards and got started early.
CU took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 10 plays, capped by an Alex Fontenot 1-yard touchdown run. That set the tone for the night.
“It was very important (to score right away), not just because of who we were going against, but because I talked very little about ASU this week; I barely even mentioned them in terms of what we need to do, because we felt like it was really going to be up to us,” Tucker said.
Playing its game, CU clicked on offense nearly all night.
After an ASU missed field goal on its first possession, the Buffs drove 70 yards in 11 plays, with Montez hooking up with Brown for a 29-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Buffs lead.
ASU recovered quickly, and aided by a CU fumble on a kickoff return, scored twice in a span of 2:18 to tie the game.
The Buffs, however, scored on all four first-half possessions and added two more scores in the second half.
“This is definitely what we wanted to put on tape and what we wanted to show everybody that we had been doing (on offense),” Montez said. “We had been looking like this every day in practice. We’ve had that focus, we’ve had that execution and for some reason it just wasn’t clicking when we would get to the games. But tonight, everything just kind of fell into place and we just played a really clean, a really, really good executed game.”
ASU answered nearly every CU score, as its stars came to play. Jayden Daniels threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns, Eno Benjamin rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns and Brandon Aiyuk caught nine passes for 122 yards and a score.
The game was tied at 14-14, 21-21, 24-24 and 31-31 before Stefanou broke the tie for good.
“It was a fun game to be a part of,” Montez said.
Even more fun to win it and get a reward for the daily grind that has allowed CU to simply focus on the task at hand.
“We come in every week in practice and we work our butts off,” Montez said. “And you can put us out there against any team in the nation and I think that we have a good shot because we just prepare so hard every week.”
Colorado 34, Arizona State 31
Play of the game: With 1:10 to play in the third quarter, Steven Montez connected with Tony Brown for a 20-yard touchdown pass, perfectly placing the ball for Brown to make the catch in the corner of the end zone. The score gave CU a 31-24 lead.
Turning point: After ASU tied the game at 31-31 early in the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils forced a CU punt and then went on the move offensively. ASU was already in field goal range when CU’s Derrion Rakestraw ended the threat with an interception. It didn’t lead to points, but it prevented ASU from taking the lead in a crucial moment.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
- 1. Tony Brown: The senior had career highs in catches (nine), receiving yards (150) and touchdowns (three).
- 2. Steven Montez: Playing like a senior leader, he threw for 337 yard and three touchdowns and managed the offense all night.
- 3. Derrion Rakestraw: Filling in for injured Aaron Maddox, he led the team with nine tackles and also had a key interception.
Colorado 34, No. 24 Arizona St. 31
Colorado 14 10 7 3 — 34
Arizona St. 0 21 3 7 — 31
COL – Fontenot 1 run (Stefanou kick), 10:00
COL – Brown 29 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 1:18
ASU – Aiyuk 53 pass from Daniels (Zendejas kick), 13:09
ASU – Benjamin 1 run (Zendejas kick), 10:41
COL – Brown 31 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 8:45
ASU – Benjamin 3 run (Zendejas kick), 5:23
COL – FG Stefanou 25, :28
ASU – FG Zendejas 23, 3:42
COL – Brown 20 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 1:10
ASU – Darby 39 pass from Daniels (Zendejas kick), 13:51
COL – FG Stefanou 44, 2:03
First downs 20 21
Rushes-yards 40-138 28-108
Passing 337 345
Comp-Att-Int 23-30-0 24-39-1
Return Yards 107 56
Punts-Avg. 3-35.0 2-44.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-45 2-24
Time of Possession 31:56 28:04
RUSHING – Colorado, Fontenot 25-89, Mangham 7-23, D.Smith 4-15, Montez 2-10, Stanley 1-2, (Team) 1-(minus 1). Arizona St., Benjamin 20-83, Daniels 5-16, Long 2-10, (Team) 1-(minus 1).
PASSING – Colorado, Montez 23-30-0-337. Arizona St., Daniels 24-39-1-345.
RECEIVING – Colorado, Brown 9-150, Nixon 6-98, Stanley 3-42, Fontenot 3-22, L.Shenault 1-23, Bisharat 1-2. Arizona St., Aiyuk 9-122, Ky.Williams 3-32, Kerley 2-59, Darby 2-49, Hodges 2-28, Newsome 2-25, Benjamin 2-0, Pearsall 1-19, Porter 1-11.
MISSED FIELD GOALS –Arizona St., Zendejas 48.