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Critical failure in goal-line sequence ended CU Buffs comeback bid at Air Force

Colorado Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell, left, and Air Force Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun meet at mid-field after the game at Falcon Stadium Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Colorado Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell, left, and Air Force Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun meet at mid-field after the game at Falcon Stadium Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
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AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Karl Dorrell didn’t want to talk about it, because talk wouldn’t change Colorado’s reality.

It was a fair point, as talk is becoming cheap for a Buffaloes football team that looks like it is regressing, even just two games into the 2022 season. Yet the turning point Dorrell did not want to discuss following his team’s 41-10 loss at Air Force on Saturday nonetheless warranted further scrutiny.

Thanks in large part to a defense that held tough into the third quarter, the Buffs remained very much in the game early in the second half. Air Force led 20-10 at halftime, and after CU forced a Falcons punt to open the third quarter, the Buffs received the sort of break needed to pull off an upset on the road.

Air Force’s snap sailed wildly over the head of Falcons punter Carson Bay, giving CU a first down at the Falcons’ 13-yard line. A pass interference call on AFA pushed the ball to the 2 when the game-changing sequence unfolded.

CU running back Alex Fontenot barreled through the line and attempted to push his way backward across the goal line. A jarring hit was delivered to Fontenot’s back, causing a fumble that AFA recovered. It looked as if Fontenot, before the fumble, may have inched the ball across the line for a touchdown that would have cut the Buffs’ deficit to 20-17. But the call held after a video review.

“It’s not even worth commenting on, because it doesn’t change anything,” Dorrell said. “Right now, to talk about it, after they make that call and make that determination, you just have to roll with the punches and keep going. That was an unfortunate opportunity to capitalize on. Along with a couple other fourth-and-twos that we didn’t capitalize on as well.”

CU still very much had an opportunity to capitalize on the dramatic shift of field position but couldn’t take advantage. The Buffs forced a quick three-and-out from the Falcons and took over once again at the AFA 40-yard line. This time, running back Deion Smith was held to one yard on fourth-and-2. Once AFA reached the end zone on the ensuing drive, it was game over.

The missed opportunity highlighted the offensive malaise that already is threatening to ruin CU’s 2022 season. On those two possessions early in the second half, plus CU’s final possession of the first half, the Buffs took control deep in Falcons territory — on the AFA 23, 13 and 40. The Buffs posted a total of three points on those three possessions.

“We’ve got to play better. Bottom line, we’re not playing well,” Dorrell said. “We’ve had good practices, but that hasn’t translated to what it should look like on Saturdays.

“It’s always disappointment I think on any level when you don’t convert. We’ll just keep working at it. We’re going to keep trying. There’s going to be fourth downs we’re going to still continue to go for, and at some point we need to convert.”

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