The Colorado Buffaloes entered the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday night a team with nothing to lose. A program that had so out performed expectations that they were playing with house money, a world of possibilities awaiting with a win but so much accomplished, regardless. After a 41-10 loss that was even more frustrating then the final score would indicate it's hard to think back to that feeling, even if it was only a few hours ago.
The opening drive honestly couldn't have gone any worse for the Buffaloes when Tedric Thompson earned an unnecessary pass interference penalty trying to break up an underthrown ball to Husky receiver John Ross. 50 rushing yards later and the Buffaloes had given up their first opening series touchdown of the season.
Colorado's first drive started off almost as bad when Sefo Liufau, right off of a beautiful Sefo-like 25 yard run, was blown up on a sack that came right through the middle of the line and left the quarterback grabbing his ankle and heading for the sideline. Steven Montez would enter the game, showing some good and some bad, and would eventually lead the Buffaloes on a drive that included two big throws to Kyle Evans and Shay Fields and ended in a Phillip Lindsay touchdown. The Huskies would get back on the board with a Browning pass to Darrell Daniels to give us our 14-7 halftime score.
Coming out of halftime it seemed as though the Buffs may have some magic left as Sefo Liufau again took the field to lead the team he has led so well this season but it was not to be on this drive. On his first play he overthrew Jay MacIntyre and it landed right in the hands of Taylor Rapp for a pick-six touchdown. One series later, this time on the fourth play of the drive, Liufau threw another interception to Rapp, putting the Huskies on the Buffaloes 26-yard line. The Colorado defense was able to make a big time stop to hold Washington to a field goal.
The Buffaloes offense sputtered for two series and the defense, even after they were able to clamp down for a bit, had their will temporarily crushed when a horrible Jake Browning throw turned into an unbelievable John Ross catch that he turned into a touchdown.
At that point, the game was unfortunately effectively over. The Buffaloes offense with Sefo unable to run and the Husky defense able to pin their ears back was unable to do anything outside of a miracle catch-and-fumble-and-run that still didn't get into the end zone. The Buffaloes defense still fought hard with the secondary, and especially Ahkello Witherspoon, fighting all the way until the whistle blew.
It didn't matter, it wasn't near enough. This Washington team proved to be the better team tonight and it likely would have stayed that way even if Sefo had been 100% all night. It didn't matter because the Colorado defense, as good as they've been, couldn't stop a Husky ground game that seemed to get 2-3 extra yards on every single rush. It didn't matter that Jake Browning was off all night, finishing with a pedestrian 9-24 for 118 yards. It didn't matter because nearly every single big play of the night was seemingly made by a Husky. It didn't matter because tonight Washington proved to be the better team.
But none of that takes much of anything away from this Colorado Buffaloes team and this Colorado Buffaloes season. Yes, that game sucked. But don't let this season be diminished a single bit because of that result. Remember how you laughed at your friends and your favorite writers when they, God forbid, predicted that this team would have an incredible run. Think back to when you told yourself that you'd be ecstatic if this team even got back to a bowl game... then tell that person that your Colorado Buffaloes are the Pac-12 South champions, 10-3, and headed to either the Rose Bowl (miracle needed) or the Alamo Bowl and imagine the smile that would spread over your face. Remember that tonight as we deal with a loss that sucks but quickly move on to the big, big things that are on the way for this program.
#TheRise was never meant to be a one year thing. The Rise is about the return of this program to national prominence, and in that regard we're just beginning the journey.