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Football: Colorado Buffs on emotional ride as season winds down

Colorado quarterback JT Shrout looks for a receiver against Washington on Saturday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Colorado quarterback JT Shrout looks for a receiver against Washington on Saturday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

SEATTLE – Despite rough results on a weekly basis, the Colorado football team has remained remarkably engaged on game days and in practice.

An embarrassing two-minute stretch to end the first half on Saturday night proved to be a boiling point for the Buffaloes, but perhaps wasn’t unexpected.

Already losing by three touchdowns in what would become a 54-7 loss to No. 15 Washington, the Buffs gave up 12 points in about 100 seconds. A bad snap on a punt led to a safety, followed by giving up a 28-yard kickoff return, and then a touchdown on defense. That was followed by a muffed kickoff that led to a Washington field goal.

“It got emotional (on the sideline during that time),” interim head coach Mike Sanford said. “And let’s just call it like it is: there’s a lot going on with our overall program. Every single person that’s involved in the program from the support staff through the players and strength staff, there’s a lot of uncertainty and obviously it becomes an emotional situation when certain things happen on the field like that.

“It becomes even more overwhelming at that point in time.”

On top of the rough results, the Buffs (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12) have spent the last seven weeks not knowing who will coach them in the future after former head coach Karl Dorrell was fired on Oct. 2.

CU’s search for its next full-time head coach could wrap up within about a week. But, assistants and support staff don’t know if they’ll be retained by the next coach. Players aren’t sure if they’ll be around next year, either, so it’s been an emotional ride that isn’t over.

Despite that, CU was able to regroup in the locker room and played the second half with their usual fight.

“I will say that what I saw in the second half is I saw a team that that did not check out,” Sanford said.

Sanford used quarterback JT Shrout as an example of that fight. Shrout briefly came out of the game with a leg injury in the third quarter and CU trailing 40-0. Trainers advised Sanford that Shrout’s leg was “locked up and stiff.”

“JT, he was pretty banged up,” Sanford said. “I was immediately going to move on (to backup Drew Carter) and JT came up to me before he threw that touchdown to Montana (Lemonious-Craig) and he had a look in his eyes, like, ‘I’m going to continue to fight.’ I pointed that out in the locker room to our team, just for them to understand that essentially, there are a lot of guys – it’s not just JT; there’s a lot of players on our team that are fighting through adversity.”

Five offensive snaps after leaving the game, Shrout had his best pass of the night, hitting Lemonious-Craig for a 69-yard touchdown.

Although times have been tough, Lemonious-Craig is another Buff who has kept battling.

“For me personally, I would say it’s not too hard to stay focused, because at the end it, I’m here to play football and go to school,” Lemonious-Craig said. “(The off-the-field issues are) above what I have to worry about. I believe we have the right people in higher positions to be able to maintain that situation. But for me, it’s not too hard to stay focused on playing at all. I love this game and it’s something that I enjoy doing. Week in and week out, I’m always going to go out and give it my all.”

Regardless of how this season is playing out, Sanford is proud of the players for how they’ve dealt with adversity – and regained their cool after an understandable boiling point.

“The life lessons that we’re going to be able to attain from this – myself, our staff, our players – you come out on the other end of this thing knowing that you truly stayed in the fight, as hard and as bad as it was,” Sanford said. “That’s going to set you up for whatever situation comes your way for the rest of your life.”

Game time set

On Sunday, the Pac-12 announced that Saturday’s regular season finale between the Buffs and No. 14 Utah (8-3, 6-2) has been slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Folsom Field. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.

CU will finish with six games being on the Pac-12 Network this season. The Buffs also had four games on the ESPN networks, one on CBS and one on FS1.