Justin Holland fell to his knees.
The referee raised the football over his head, signaling the end of the football game. The 5,000 CSU fans, their hearts in their throats just seconds before, stood staring at the field in disbelief. The scoreboard couldn’t be right.
In a game when CSU came back two times from deficits of 10 points or more but never led, the Rams fell to the Buffaloes 27-24 in Boulder Saturday. Failing to convert three chances from inside the CU 1-yard-line in the final 30 seconds, the game ended on a chaotic pitch to Tristan Walker, who attempted to break the goal line but was stopped short as the clock ran out.
“It’s a terrible way to lose a game,” said a tearful Holland. “It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my whole life. It was a game I wanted really bad.”
Lubick said that during the chaos of the last play, while the sideline was hollering ‘Spike! Spike!’, the crowd noise led to confusion about the call for the last play.
“We’re all out of sync,” head coach Sonny Lubick said. “I think it was a good call, go around the end, break a tackle and fall into the end zone.”
In the first quarter, CU scored on their first two drives, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and holding CSU to nine yards on offense. CU running back Bobby Purify ran for 80 yards in the first quarter alone, ending the day with 193 yards on 26 carries, averaging over seven yards per rush.
“They have a good big offensive line and we got two redshirt freshmen starting for us there,” Lubick said. “There’s no excuses, though. Those kids played hard.”
In the second quarter the Rams gained some momentum as Holland led the Rams on a touchdown drive to end the first half, making the score 17-7.
“We never consider ourselves out of a game,” said Holland. “We teach fighting here, it’s all we do. When we were down 17-0, there was nobody on the sideline with their head on the ground.”
CSU struggled in its running game as Marcus Houston, who scored the second touchdown on a 1-yard run, rushed for 44 yards on 20 carries.
“We didn’t rush the ball well, like we should have, could have,” Lubick said. “You have to give CU credit, they were a solid front four.”
A CSU field goal tied the game early in the fourth, but when CU was ready to punt in its next possession, a CSU timeout allowed CU head coach Gary Barnett to rethink his decision and Mason Crosby gave the Buffs a three-point lead with a 55-yard field goal.
On the following drive, Holland was intercepted by Buff Brian Iwuh, who returned the ball 37 yards for a touchdown. In a span of 18 seconds, CU had taken a 10 point lead with 6:34 remaining in the game.
Holland regained his composure, completing 5-of-6 passes on the next drive, capping it off with a 31-yard touchdown pass to wideout John Walker with 4:35 left in the game.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Lubick said of Holland. “He’s just going to come back after he threw one bad play.”
After forcing CU to punt, Holland and the Rams took the field with 2:36 remaining in the game.
“When Justin took the field, we thought we were going to get in,” Houston said. “I thought we were going to win.”
The offense quickly moved down the field and with less than 30 seconds to go Holland found Anderson inside the 1-yard line of CU, setting up a first and goal with about 30 seconds remaining. A running attempt by Houston and then by Walker both came up short as time ran out.
“It was a disheartening lose for our players, for me, for all of our fans,” Lubick said. “I’m so damn proud of this football team in the locker room here. They played with heart and there was no give.”