Beating the Colorado Buffaloes may become a habit for the CSU Rams.
Some habits just never get old.
Bradlee Van Pelt scored the go-ahead touchdown with 6:20 remaining and the CSU defense stopped the Buffs in the closing seconds as CSU defeated No. 6 CU, 19-14 on Saturday.
The Rams improve to 2-0 on the season and have now beaten their in-state rivals three of the last four years.
“Everybody came out and left it all on the field for four quarters,” junior wide receiver Chris Pittman said. “I’ve got nothing left right now.”
Pittman wasn’t the only exhausted Ram. Many of the tired were on the Ram defense, which pitched a shutout for three-quarters. The vaunted CU running attack was held to 186 yards and CSU was able to avoid any big plays.
“What you have to do with a running team is force them to pass and I thought we did that well today,” said junior linebacker Drew Wood. “When a team like CU is passing the ball as much as they did, you know they’re out of their game.”
The Rams frustrated the CU offensive attack from the beginning. Following linebacker Eric Pauly’s interception of CU quarterback Craig Ochs’ first pass on the Buffaloes’ first drive, the defense stood firm in holding CU to two yards on its second drive.
After junior Dexter Wynn returned the Buffs’ punt 43 yards to the CU 39-yard line, the Ram offense got on track, taking only 1:09 to punch in a touchdown.
Senior running back Cecil Sapp completed the drive with a bulldozing 8-yard push into the end zone through several CU defenders. The score was the first of two touchdowns on the day for Sapp, who grinded his way to 87 tough yards on 22 carries.
“Cecil went right through us,” said CU head coach Gary Barnett. “On the first touchdown I thought we had enough help there and he drove us back. Apparently we didn’t have enough help.”
What help the Buffs did have came from CSU’s poor special teams play. Normally a staple of the CSU attack, special teams almost cost the Rams the game. Sophomore kicker Jeff Babcock missed two field goals and an extra point in the first half, while breakdowns in the Rams’ punt return unit led to the Buffs’ first score.
CU freshman Jeremy Bloom caught a booming 57-yard punt from the Rams’ Joey Huber, dashed right of the first wave of coverage men and sprinted 75 yards, nearly untouched, to the endzone.
Following a defensive stop, the Buffs drove 81 yards to score again, taking the lead, 14-13. For the Rams, victory seemed to be slipping away.
“They did what they did to get back in the game, but I think our offensive coordinators did a great job with the play-calling, mixing things up,” CSU head coach Sonny Lubick said. “But I can’t say enough about our offense and our whole team rising to the occasion and playing with every ounce of courage they had.”
With momentum clearly on the Buffs’ side, the CSU offense needed a big drive. It responded to the pressure, riding the tough running of Cecil Sapp and the accuracy of quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt during a game-winning, 84-yard drive.
“We needed to put a drive together,” Sapp said. “We told ourselves that before the drive, ‘Let’s put this thing away,’ and then the defense will step up and hold it.”
The Rams’ offense came through, capping the drive on Van Pelt’s 23-yard dash into the end zone. The Rams’ junior quarterback finished with 74 rushing yards to go along with 168 through the air.
“Bradlee Van Pelt is getting better every game,” Lubick said. “With him and Cecil running the ball like they are, we’re making it pretty tough on defenses.”
With CSU leading 19-14, the Buffs’ offense drove to the Rams’ 12-yard line. The game came down to the final play — a fourth-and-5 with just under 30 seconds remaining. CU’s chances, like the hearts of thousands in attendance, stopped as Ochs’ pass to wideout John Donahoe was broken up by CSU safety David Vickers.
“That was all adrenaline and heart on that play,” Wood said. “Our defense has heart. We step up and make the plays when we need to.”
Van Pelt kneeled down with 21 seconds to play as time expired.
“I think the whole state of Colorado saw a team with a tremendous amount of character and toughness,” Lubick said. “CU is a top-notch football team, but I know they respect Colorado State.”