Third and eight. Ball on your opponent’s 43-yard-line. Two minutes, 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter and your team leads by four points.
Conventional wisdom says to run the ball one more time, punt it deep and force the other team to drive the length of the field for a win.
But conventional wisdom doesn’t have a field named in its honor. Sonny Lubick does.
“We were trying to figure it out what to do. We called a conservative run at first, and then coach Lubick came up and said ‘What are you all doing,’ and he said just fake it and go deep,” said junior quarterback Caleb Hanie.
Indeed, the Rams went deep – sending all three receivers straight up the field toward the end zone.
Hanie received the snap from center Nick Allotta, faked a handoff and threw a spiraling pass along the left sideline in the direction of his favorite target all day: junior Johnny Walker.
With Colorado-Boulder cornerback Terrance Wheatley draped all over Walker and safety J.J. Billingsley closing in, the pass became a jumpball – up for grabs for whomever wanted it most.
“Caleb had faith in me and just threw the ball up and I went up there and made the play. Coach said if we got a first down, then we win the game, and we got the first down,” said Walker on the field after the game.
With no timeouts left, CU-Boulder coach Dan Hawkins could do nothing but watch from the sideline as CSU drained the remainder of the clock on three straight-run plays.
“I give them a lot of credit for having the confidence in their team,” Hawkins said. “They came out and made the play, and it was not any easy play.”
Hawkins was sure who made the play once the CSU student section exploded after number seven came down with the ball.
“You knew they got it,” he said.
With the catch, Walker finished up a career day, which saw him notch career-bests in both catches (10) and receiving yards (158).
More importantly, he earned himself a spot in the unofficial “made a big play to beat CU” club, which started with fullback Floyd Cross in 1912 and had continued up to 2002 with running back Cecil Sapp.
Officially inducting Walker was coach Hammerschmidt.
“Now Johnny’s (catch) will go down in history, too,” said Hammerschmidt about the history of big plays made by CSU players in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Running his route from the opposite side of the field, junior H-back Korry Sperry had no doubt who was going to catch that ball.
“That’s Johnny’s style, he’s a freak with the ball…I knew (Walker) was going to make that catch,” said Sperry.
Smiling from ear to ear, Walker was approached by emotional teammates on two separate occasions after the game.
Junior defensive lineman Erik Sandie gave Walker a big kiss on the field not long after the victory and coach Lubick embraced him with a bear hug in the locker room.
“I’ll tell him I love him, too,” said Lubick as he wrapped his arms around Walker.
The junior from Lancaster, Calif., called it the biggest catch he’s ever made.
Without it, the clock would have stopped and the Rams would have been forced to give the ball up to the Buffaloes with more than two minutes left in a rivalry game where anything can and will happen.
But Walker did make the catch, sending an entire team and university into a state of euphoria, something the Rams so desperately needed.
Staff writer Sean Star can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.