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CU Buffs take care of Northern Colorado in season opener

Buffs start slow, but offense puts together enough positives

  • University of Colorado Boulder mascot Ralphie VI runs across the field for the first time before a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder mascot Chip and the team celebrate a home win over University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Sami (99) celebrates a sack of University of Northern Colorado quarterback Dylan McCaffrey (12) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy F. Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder sophomore wide receiver Dimitri Stanley (14) runs up the middle on a punt return against University of Northern Colorado defenders on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.

  • The University of Colorado Boulder marching band marches on the field before a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder freshman tailback Ashaad Clayton (0), with tackle Max Wray (72) behind him, stiff arms University of Northern Colorado sophomore defensive back Greg Laday (2) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder freshman tailback Ashaad Clayton (0) is hoisted up by junior tight end Brady Russell (38) after scoring a rushing touchdown against the University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.

  • The University of Colorado Boulder student section cheers before a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder senior inside linebacker Nate Landman (53) tackles University of Northern Colorado wide receiver Dylan Thomas (11) for a one yard gain on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy F. Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Sami (99) celebrates tackling University of Northern Colorado freshman receiver Zain Zinicola (22) for a loss on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.

  • University of Colorado Boulder sophomore tailback Jarek Broussard (23) squeezes by University of Northern Colorado defenders to score the opening touchdown on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder mascot Ralphie VI runs across the field for the first time before a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.

  • University of Northern Colorado head coach Ed McCaffrey looks on from the sidelines during a game against University of Colorado Boulder on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Sami (99) sacks University of Northern Colorado quarterback Dylan McCaffrey (12) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder freshman receiver Brenden Rice (2) and mascot Chip the Buffalo celebrate a win over University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder sophomore tailback Jarek Broussard (23) is tackled by University of Northern Colorado junior defensive back Aaron Harris (3) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder head coach Karl Dorrell, left, and cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, look on from the sideline during a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis (12) attempts a pass during a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • University of Colorado Boulder sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Sami (99) celebrates a sack of University of Northern Colorado quarterback Dylan McCaffrey (12) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder sophomore wide receiver Dimitri Stanley (14) runs during a punt return in a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    University of Colorado Boulder head coach Karl Dorrell greets University of Northern Colorado head coach Ed McCaffrey after a home win for CU on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.

  • University of Northern Colorado head coach Ed McCaffrey during a timeout of a game against University of Colorado Boulder on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • A University of Colorado Boulder handler prepares mascot Ralphie VI for her first run onto the field before a game against University of Northern Colorado on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

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The sunset over the Flatirons, a raucous student section, and the glorious debut of Ralphie VI  provided the beauty on the opening night of Colorado’s 2021 football season on Friday at Folsom Field.

The on-the-field product wasn’t picturesque, but it got the job done.

Prognosticators pegged the Buffaloes as 37.5-point favorites over Northern Colorado. CU never looked that dominant but rolled to a 35-7 victory.

“That’s really the silver lining in a way,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “That’s what I was trying to express with the team in the locker room is that we won 35-7 and it was a pretty decisive win, but how good can we be? My vision of this team is we can be as good as we want ourselves to be. We did it kind of with shooting ourselves in the foot today but won a very decisive game. They’re going to learn from that.”

After playing the 2020 season in front of no fans and without Ralphie, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of both was welcomed.

Ralphie VI, a 15-month buffalo weighing in at just under 500 pounds, made her debut with two successful runs at the start of each half. And, the fans made a triumphant return, with 44,153 tickets sold. The student section was particularly spirited.

“For us to be able to play with fans now finally is like a gift really,” cornerback Mekhi Blackmon said.

Running back Jarek Broussard, now in his fourth season with the Buffs, finally got his first chance to run behind Ralphie, and it was his first time playing in front of a crowd at home.

“That was a pretty cool experience,” he said. “Playing with fans again was full of emotions. It was fun to see everybody come out and watch us play; to get a win was really good.”

On the field, the Buffs sputtered early on offense but overcame 12 penalties by playing stellar defense and getting the run game going to win their sixth consecutive season opener.

“We got a victory,” Dorrell said. “It was good to start the season with a crowd and I thought the fans were into the game and I felt our team was inspired about playing in front of people again. … I’m really disappointed in the discipline of our team right now. That’s where I’m frustrated. We should have played a lot cleaner.”

The 12 penalties added up to 118 yards and often came at inopportune times. Those and other miscues allowed UNC to hang around for a while, but CU’s highly routed run game came through all night.

Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis had a roller-coaster debut start but leaned on his running backs. The Buffs racked up 281 rushing yards and four different running backs scored touchdowns.

“Yeah, it’s no surprise,” Lewis said. “I’ve said this before that every dude in that running back room is a dog. So I wasn’t surprised to see every single one of them getting in the end zone, because that’s just what they do. They’re all really good at what they do.”

Broussard led the way with 94 yards, while Ashaad Clayton (51 yards), Alex Fontenot (40) and Deion Smith (32) also played well.

Lewis, meanwhile, completed 10-of-15 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, while adding 44 yards on the ground.

“I felt he did a really good job of managing the game,” Dorrell said. “I would say it was a solid performance from him.”

In addition to the run game, Lewis got support from the CU defense, which kept the Bears, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision, off the scoreboard until the final play of the third quarter.

While UNC quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, a transfer from Michigan, played well and had some good moments, they wound up punting on six of their first seven possessions.

McCaffrey threw for 236 yards and a touchdown, but was also picked off in the end zone by Blackmon near the end of the first half and was sacked three times. On the ground, UNC was held to 20 yards on 18 carries.

“I felt defensively we did pretty well,” Dorrell said. “We didn’t want them to run the ball. We didn’t allow them to run the ball.”

UNC had not played a game since 2019 and was playing its first game under head coach Ed McCaffrey. Going in, CU didn’t know much at all about the Bears and that seemed to contribute to a slow start.

After a scoreless first quarter, Broussard got the Buffs on the board with a 1-yard run early in the second quarter. Midway through the quarter, Lewis connected with Montana Lemonious-Craig for a 17-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

Fontenot made it 21-0 with a 3-yard touchdown late in the third, but UNC responded with its only touchdown. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Buffs on a fourth-down play kept a drive alive. Then, on the final play of the third quarter, McCaffrey hit Kassidy Woods, who broke tackles on his way to a 34-yard score, cutting the CU lead to 21-7.

Clayton and Smith scored touchdowns in the fourth as the Buffs pulled away.

“I do take my hat off to coach McCaffrey and that team that he’s coaching,” Dorrell said. “I think for not having a season and a half and for them to play the way they played, I thought they fought really, really hard. I think they have a really good program and a good team. And we were fortunate enough to make a few more plays than them.”

Colorado 35, Northern Colorado 7

Play of the game: Second-year freshman Ashaad Clayton had the longest run of his career to this point, a 35-yard scamper to the UNC 19 on the second play of the fourth quarter. That helped to set up his 1-yard touchdown four plays later.

Turning point: CU’s third touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run by Alex Fontenot with 3:10 to play in the third quarter, gave the Buffs a three-score lead at 21-0. While UNC responded with a score, the 21-point lead gave the Buffs the cushion they needed to pull away.

Top 3 Buffs of the game

1. RB Jarek Broussard: He picked up where he left off last year, picking up 94 yards on 15 carries and getting into the end zone.

2. DB Chris Miller: After missing most of 2020 with an injury, Miller was active all night for the Buffs. He was one of their leaders in tackles and was around the ball a lot.

3. WR/PR Dimitri Stanley: Finished with 68 yards on three punt returns to flip the field in the first half. He also had a 7-yard catch for a first down, setting up the Buffs’ third touchdown.

Colorado 35, Northern Colorado 7

N. Colorado    0    0    7    0    —    7
Colorado         0   14   7   14   — 35

Second Quarter

COL – Broussard 1 run (Becker kick), 13:51.

COL – Lemonious-Craig 17 pass from Lewis (Becker kick), 7:02.

Third Quarter

COL – Fontenot 3 run (Becker kick), 3:10.

UNC – Woods 34 pass from McCaffrey (Raybon kick), 0:00.

Fourth Quarter

COL – Clayton 1 run (Becker kick), 12:29.

COL – Smith 5 run (Becker kick), 7:27.

                                    UNC     COL

First downs                   16          22
Rushes-yards             18-20    49-281
Passing                        236       102
Comp-Att-Int             24-42-1  10-15-0
Return Yards                39          112
Punts-Avg.                6-37.3     3-40.0
Fumbles-Lost              1-0          0-0
Penalties-Yards          6-50      12-118
Time of Possession   29:16      30:43

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING UNC, Wilson 6-16, McCaffrey 9-9, Thomas 1-3, Zincola 1-(minus 4), George 1-(minus 4). Colorado, Broussard 15-94, Clayton 8-51, Lewis 8-44, Fontenot 8-40, Smith 4-32, Davis 5-22, Team 1-(minus 2).

PASSING – UNC, McCaffrey 24-42-1-236. Colorado, Lewis 10-15-0-102.

RECEIVING – UNC, Wilson 8-69, Woods 4-88, Thomas 3-2, DeLaCroix 2-30, Mitchell 2-9, Flowers 1-9, Morris 1-7, Zincola 1-7, Angelillo 1-6. Colorado, Shenault 2-23, Lemonious-Craig 2-23, Pell 1-17, Penry 1-16, Broussard 1-7, Russell 1-7, Stanley 1-7, Fontenot 1-2.

MISSED FIELD GOALS – Colorado, Becker (53 yards).