In a season where progress has sometimes been measured by moral victories rather than actual victories, Colorado fans were presented with tangible evidence that the Buffs are indeed making steps in the right direction. Colorado held on in a stagnant second half, knocking off Hawai'i by a 21-12 count.
The afternoon began inauspiciously for Colorado and quarterback Sefo Liufau. On the first play from scrimmage, Liufau dropped back to pass and saw Shay Fields open. Fields fell down, and Liufau lofted a ball into triple coverage to Nelson Spruce. Hawai'i's Ne'Quan Fields came down with the ball, scampering down to the Colorado 40.
"I thought I had a pass interference on Shay," said Liufau. "I thought I had a free play. I'm not just going to throw the ball up there if there wasn't a foul."
The Colorado defense responded by creating a turnover of their own. On 3rd-and-7, Greg Henderson came off the right edge on a cornerback blitz. Henderson sacked quarterback Ikaika Woolsey, forcing and recovering a fumble.
It would take several drives before the Colorado offense started to click. After a failed fourth down attempt and a turnover on downs, Hawai'i's Tyler Hadden converted on a field goal from 35 yards to give the Rainbow Warriors a 3-0 lead.
Hawai'i would only lead for a grand total of 17 seconds. On the next play from scrimmage, Liufau found Spruce open along the left sideline. Liufau's ball was underthrown, but Spruce slowed down, boxing his man out, caught the ball, and ran to the end zone to give Colorado the lead.
The touchdown would be the beginning of a milestone day for the junior receiver out of Westlake Village, Calif. Spruce's 13 receptions marked a single-game record for a Buff. His 172 yards was good enough to move him into ninth-place all-time in career receiving yards, passing Daniel Graham.
"Nelson's a great competitor, he does a phenomenal job. He's a great leader, one of our team captains," said MacIntyre. "I look forward to watching him break every record there ever was at Colorado."
CU's next scoring drive would feature a varied aerial attack, as Spruce, George Frazier and D.D. Goodson all caught passes from Liufau. Shay Fields' 13-yard end-around touchdown capped an impressive 75-yard drive.
The Buffs would promptly force a three-and-out. 12 plays and 56 yards later, George Frazier found the end zone, grabbing a Liufau pass on the right flat and running in to the end zone, giving CU a 21-6 lead.
Both offenses might have confused halftime for the conclusion of the game. After Hadden knocked home his third field goal of the game, Phillip Lindsay sprung a 51-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, running out to the UH 49. The Buffs went in reverse from there, losing nine yards on sacks and penalties before punting away.
Colorado failed to venture into UH territory again until the fourth quarter, on a drive that ended with a Darragh O'Neill punt.
"It was a little but more of an exhausting win, if that makes sense," said MacIntyre. "Because we had them, but you're all thinking ‘they're hanging around, just one screw-up and in could be on the bubble.'"
In reality Hawai'i was just a big play or two away from putting a real scare into the Folsom Field crowd of about 39,000. But there was no reason to expect the Rainbow Warriors to pick up any large chunks of yardage in haste.
UH played three quarterbacks, Woolsey, Jeremy Higgins, and Taylor Graham. None of the three could prove to be an effective option.
Next up for Colorado is a road trip to Berkeley to face a California team that experienced a heart-breaking last second loss to Arizona.