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Being There for the Buffaloes: UMass Minutemen

The first in an ongoing series about the gameday experience from a student's perspective.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was not the first time I had been inside Folsom Field in 2015. I attended the spring game in March, as well as the public scrimmage in August, and I have a class in one of the classrooms inside the stadium that has allowed me to follow the construction of the Champions Center on a daily basis.

Despite all of that, I felt as though I was doing something I hadn't done in a very long time when I walked through gate 8 and saw the field come into view for the first time on Saturday morning. Folsom just isn't the same place on gamedays as it is the rest of the year. Somehow the sun is brighter, the sky is bluer and the grass is greener. Neither the atmosphere nor the attendance is what it used to be, but it's still a special place to watch a football game.

The mood leading up to the game was one of genuine excitement, and if you had been asleep since last Wednesday you could have been forgiven for thinking that CU had actually beaten Hawaii. The bus ride to the game was full of freshmen dressed up in CU gear and eager to attend their first college football game as a student. It put some of my nerves at ease and temporarily made me forget about how nervous I was about this game.

I got to the stadium a few minutes after 11 AM and immediately walked down to the front to say hello to some of my friends who had gotten there before me. Then I walked to the other side of the stadium to get a good look at (and a few pictures of) the Champions Center, which had suddenly changed from the construction site I had been looking at every day to an actual seating area bustling with people. The roof still isn't done, but it looked great and I really think it makes the stadium seem more complete.

A few minutes before kickoff the crowd was still pretty thin, but the student section had filled in enough to make some noise for Ralphie's run. Folsom Frenzy is trying to start a new kickoff tradition for the start of games and after CU scores this year, so I spent some time walking around and teaching it to people before the game started. The results were mixed but traditions don't become traditions overnight.

After the Buffs scored the first touchdown of the game the crowd was in a very good mood and the student section was unquestionably one of the most enthusiastic (for the first quarter) that I've been a part of since coming here. Then UMass tied the game on two separate occasions and those familiar nervous murmurs began and the feelings of doubt and dread crept back into the minds of everyone in attendance.

The game really turned on the targeting call against Afolabi Laguda and the subsequent interception in the end zone by Ryan Moeller. The boos after Laguda's ejection may have been the loudest the crowd got the entire afternoon, and the anger translated into elated vindication when Moeller made his diving pick. At the time, UMass seemed certain to cut the lead to either seven or three, but they wouldn't score again after that sequence.

By halftime, spirits were back up with the Buffs holding a 31-14 advantage. Some students apparently felt good enough about the outcome to leave at halftime (or maybe they've just gotten used to doing this on a regular basis over the past few years). I was pretty disappointed with the defection rate as the third quarter went on, and by the time the game finished there were only a few hundred students remaining. I'm a firm believer that if the team is winning you should stick around no matter how lopsided the outcome is. Of course, I'll gladly take a blowout with an early-departing student section over a nail-biter like the 2013 Central Arkansas game when the students stayed all the way to the end.

The only other major negative was the fact that some students decided that the "Folsom Facts" handed out before the game would make good paper airplanes. Several of these made it down to field level, and at least three actually landed on the playing field itself. In the third quarter, Phillip Lindsay almost stepped on one while turning the corner on a run. I've been going to CU games for most of my life and I've never seen this happen before, so I'm going to choose to blame the freshmen. Come on guys, that's not cool.

Overall, the attendance pattern for this game reminded me a lot of that aforementioned Central Arkansas game from two years ago. The student section was far from the worst it could have been, but this might have been the worst showing I've seen from the general public outside of the Charleston Southern makeup game, also from two years ago. The paid attendance was the lowest since 1988 at 35,094, which was 74 fewer people than the Central Arkansas game. I'm obviously a little disappointed, but I'm not sure how anyone could reasonably expect better for a team that entered the game on a ten game losing streak.

For those who did show up, Saturday was a relatively stress-free and thoroughly enjoyable game; something that has become a rare commodity in Boulder the last few years. The team seemed energized by the student section, and several players (particularly Stephane Nembot) really fed off it, repeatedly motioning for the students to get loud. Both Nembot and Alex Kelley came over to do some high-fives with the students before the game was over.

After the final whistle, the team came over to the stands to sing the fight song with the students for the first time in 51 weeks, and it was an impassioned rendition. I could see how much it meant to the team to finally win a game, and they didn't seem to mind the fact that only a fraction of the students were still there to sing it with them. Hopefully they'll have the chance to sing it to a much larger audience next week.