The game started with an offensive explosion. Colorado led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter. The 31 combined points were the most in a CU game this season. Nebraska’s offense continued to churn out touchdowns in the second quarter, and the Cornhuskers led 35-24 at the break.
CU players got an earful from their head coach in the locker room.
“Coach Hawkins got after us a little bit,” said senior linebacker Jordon Dizon.
The Buffs responded, especially on defense. Three second-half interceptions led to three touchdowns. The first came early in the third.
Trailing by the halftime margin, Jimmy Smith, the redshirt-freshman cornerback who had played sparingly this season, picked off a Joe Ganz pass and ran 31 yards for a touchdown. On Nebraska’s next play from scrimmage, a 1st and 10 at the 36, senior Lionel Harris picked a Ganz pass. CU scored another touchdown and took the lead four plays later.
Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore Chapelle Brown gobbled up an errant Ganz pass and raced 51 yards to the 2. Hugh Charles bounced in on the next play, giving CU a 58-35 lead.
“The most redeeming thing for me was to be down at half and then come out with some unbelievable resolve,” Hawkins said about the team’s play after the half.
While the Buffs gave up 393 yards to Nebraska in the first half, they allowed just 40 yards in the decisive third quarter.
Senior Dusty Sprague said Hawkins asked his team how they wanted to be defined at halftime.
“(Hawkins said), This is how you define yourself,” Sprague said. “We’ve come back a couple times this year – do we want to be defined as that team?”
Sprague was one of several seniors who had outstanding days in their final game at Folsom. The receiver was given the ball six times on end-around plays and ran for 48 yards and a touchdown.
“We started getting good yards off of it, so we just stuck with it,” Sprague said. He also had one catch for 22 yards and recovered NU’s final onsides kick attempt.
“You couldn’t have written it up any better,” the Colorado native said of beating Nebraska on Senior Day. “It was a big game for both teams, and we come out and played well.”
Charles was instrumental in the team’s victory, as well. The senior from Dallas churned out 169 yards on the ground, and scored three times.
His position coach, Darian Hagan, challenged Charles before the game.
“I told him before the game if he ran the ball like he did against Kansas State, we win the game,” Hagan said, referring to the game when Charles eclipsed 170 yards earlier this year. “And that’s what he did. He ran the ball hard; he ran with vision, determination, like he was having fun.”
Meanwhile, senior tailback Byron Ellis capped his final home game with a 28 yard scoring run late in the game. Tight end Tyson DeVree led CU receivers with four catches and a touchdown. On defense, seniors with big plays included Harris and defensive end Alonzo Barrett. Barrett blocked a Nebraska punt and that set up a Colorado touchdown.
Dizon, the linebacker who is one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, recovered the blocked punt. He led all defenders with 18 tackles on his final day at Folsom.
Bowl games invitations will be made official Dec. 2, after conferences who feature conference championship games are done with their title games the day before.
Nebraska will home for the holidays, however. With CU’s victory, Nebraska ends its season 5-7.
“It never gets old,” said running backs coach Darian Hagan, who never lost to Nebraska as a starting Colorado quarterback. “I want to be humble in victory, but at the same time, I played in this rivalry, and it’s special. So now having the guys that I’m coaching experience the same jubilation that I did is great.”