There was no poetic ending to the Colorado Buffaloes' 2014 season, as the Utah Utes came from behind to best the Buffs 38-34 on senior day.
"When you're trying to send your seniors out right, you don't come up a play short," said quarterback Sefo Liufau. "Obviously the (a late interception) hurt us. It's just been that kind of year."
CU's final game of the season followed a script that would be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the Buffs in 2014. Score first, build a lead going into the second half, and punctuate a second-half collapse with a pick-six from Liufau.
Christian Powell drew first blood from one yard out following a 28-yard completion from Liufau to Tyler McCulloch. Powell's touchdown marked the first time the junior running back found the end zone since Colorado's victory at Massachusetts.
Powell would go on to add two more touchdowns to his account in the first half, carrying Colorado to a 24-16 halftime lead.
Initially, it looked like Colorado would deviate from the traditional script in the beginning of the second half. On 3rd-and-9 from the Utah 26, Terrel Smith appeared to have picked off Travis Wilson's deep ball to Kaelin Clay, giving Colorado all the momentum, and an opportunity to go up by a pair of scores. Instead, the interception was overturned following review.
"I think I intercepted the ball clearly, I had my hand underneath the ball," said Smith. "I don't think it touched the ground whatsoever. I don't know how they reversed the call. I fully believe it was an interception. The refs need to make a better call on that play."
Utah proceeded to pick up the first down on a fake punt. Utah punter Tom Hackett followed blockers down the left side, picking up 24 yards.
"We didn't contain it correctly," said head coach Mike MacIntyre. "They had done that overload... We didn't contain it correctly and it ended up being a big play. That's a little thing that ends up becoming a huge thing."
One play later, Utah was knocking on the door. Wilson found Westlee Tonga for 42 yards. Devontae Booker muscled his way in from one yard out to give Utah a chance to tie with a two-point conversion. Ryan Moeller shut down Utah's Statue of Liberty two-point conversion attempt, tackling Booker in the backfield.
Colorado continued to cling to the lead, adding a 46-yard field goal from Will Oliver. But a 28-yard touchdown from Wilson to Tonga moved gave Utah their first lead of the second half. Ahkello Witherspoon picked off Utah's second two-point conversion attempt of the game, holding the Utes' lead at 28-27.
Nelson Spruce made history and reclaimed the lead for Colorado on the following drive. Liufau found Spruce over the middle with plenty of room to run. Spruce got to the right sideline, scampering 66 yards for the touchdown. With the score, Spruce broke the single season touchdown record with 12, passing Derek McCoy ‘s mark of 11 set back in 2003. Liufau also surpassed Koy Detmer's single season passing yardage record, with 3,170 following the touchdown.
The Buffs held on to the lead entering the fourth quarter, stopping Utah on a 3rd-and-8, forcing an Andy Phillips 35-yard field goal.
With just over ten minutes to play, Liufau - who had been solid all day - put the finishing touches on CU's 10th loss of the season.
Under pressure from the Utah defensive line, Liufau floated a screen pass to the outside right to Utah's Dominique Hatfield, who jogged into the end zone from 20 yards.
"I just felt bad. The one mistake, the one turnover, ultimately cost us the game," said Liufau.
Colorado was never able to mount a serious drive to threaten Utah's lead.
"We're getting closer and closer," said MacIntyre. "Eventually we'll pop through and keep climbing that mountain, and bust through those clouds, and roll like dominos."
Colorado finishes the season with a 2-10 record, including a 0-9 Pac-12 record, marking the first time in 99 years CU has gone winless in conference.