Since covering the water polo team as a freshman, I’ve seen a decent amount of CSU sporting events the past four years. Because this is my last column for the Collegian, I decided to take a look back at the top five games I’ve watched or reported on since I began writing for the paper in fall of ’05.
No. 5: Jason Smith’s last game at Moby, Feb. 24, 2007: Though it wasn’t his final collegiate game, the 86-68 blowout over Wyoming was the lasting image I’ll have of Smith as a Ram. Now with the Philadelphia 76ers, J-Smooth out-shadowed the seniors on Senior Night, scoring 27 points on 13-17 shooting with 22 rebounds to send the Pokes back to Wyoming battered and bruised.
Afterward, he said it wasn’t his last game at Moby, though a little more than a month later, he decided to forgo his senior season and turn pro. As a 7-footer with soft hands and a good jump shot, Smith was a highly regarded pro prospect long before, but it wasn’t until this game that I was truly convinced of that.
No. 4: Women’s basketball upsets top-seeded Utah, March 12, 2008: After going through the entire conference season winless, the Rams pulled off one of the greatest upsets in program history by defeating eighth-ranked Utah in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament in Vegas.
Utah hadn’t lost a conference game all season and was riding a 22-game winning streak, so it’s harder to say whether the Rams winning or the Utes losing was more shocking.
Nonetheless, the win put the school in the national spotlight for a brief moment, as then-coach Jen Warden and Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk appeared on ESPN, which was a refreshing twist for the school in a year in which both basketball teams went winless in conference and Sonny Lubick was fired.
“It’s unbelievable; there’s not even words to describe it, really,” Ram guard Sarah Hunter said afterward.
No. 3: Volleyball sweeps Florida in the ‘Big Showdown’, Sept. 3, 2008: There’s probably been far more important wins for coach Tom Hilbert’s team the last four years, but this was perhaps the most enjoyable.
Playing in front of an extremely enthusiastic crowd of 4,009, the Rams handled the eighth-ranked Gators much easier than anyone could have expected, 3-0, in a matchup that was talked about since the day it was announced.
With such a dominating win, it seemed at the time the team was destined to go deep in the NCAA tournament with a rare chance to play at home in the regional rounds.
Unfortunately, the Gators would eventually get revenge, beating the Rams in the second round of the NCAAs a couple months later on their home floor.
Still, the crowd support for that win was unforgettable.
“That was as big of crowd as we’ve ever had,” Hilbert said.
No. 2: Football holds off CU in Showdown’s return to Invesco, Sept. 9, 2006: Up 4 with two-and-a-half to play, Lubick decided against running the ball on third-and-long and instead called a play action pass.
The call paid off, as Caleb Hanie found a leaping Johnny Walker for 32 yards and a first down, clinching the Showdown for the Rams and later sending the players into a congratulatory student section nearby.
Other than that memorable play, the game was largely a sleeper. But after two straight losses since and a heartbreaker the year prior in Boulder, that game was the only time I’ve seen the Rams beat the Buffs on the football field.
No. 1: The Stand, October 8, 2005: I was in the stands for The Stand, and I can’t remember having more fun at a football game. Ever.
Kyle Bell turned in a dominating performance, going for 140 yards on 25 carries, capped off by a 49-yard gallop to give the Rams the four-point lead with five minutes left.
Utah, which went undefeated the year before, stormed back though, and looked like it was going to ruin the homecoming weekend for everyone. But the Ram defense rose to the occasion and stopped the Utes four consecutive times from inside the Rams’ four yard-line to preserve the win.
Fans should have probably rushed the field, for pure shock value if nothing else, but after one student got taken down by cops for trying, the celebration remained in the stands.
Perhaps my favorite thing about The Stand was hearing quarterback Justin Holland say in class the Monday after that he almost fumbled the snap before taking a knee to kill the clock after the defense had stood pat. Phew.
I’ve sure there are games worthy of being on the list that I left out, or some I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend or write about that should have been mentioned, but that’s my top five and I’m sticking to it.
Sports columnist Sean Star can be reached at email@example.com.