If there was ever a non-injury nightmare for any quarterback, Steven Montez lived thru it during the Colorado Buffaloes 33-21 season finale loss to Cal on Saturday night. The Buffs (5-7, 2-6 Pac-12) miss the postseason for a second consecutive season, and become the third team since bowl expansion to start 5-0 and lose seven straight games.
Well, when a season breaks bad, it breaks all the way bad for the Buffaloes. Interim coach Kurt Roper’s first game in charge started horribly, brought some hope, and then crushed that hope in disappointing fashion. It was also the first game in 2018 where CU never lead.
Steven Montez and the Buffs were all out of sorts in the beginning of the game. Montez quickly threw two interceptions, and California brought them both back for touchdowns. A 34-yard return by Elijah Hicks, and another 35-yard return for Ashton Davis separated by 45 seconds to put CU down 14-0 with 13:04 left in the first quarter. Two of Colorado’s five turnovers handed the Golden Bears (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) on the night.
The Buffs came into the game not allowing a first quarter touchdown in the past six games.
Starting in a hole, CU had nowhere to go but up. A drive led by Kyle Evans resulted in a touchdown, but another interception and two more muffed points gifted Cal 10 points. The defense held as stout as they could, holding the Golden Bears to three first downs the entire first half. The Buffs rolled into halftime down 24-7.
The second half seemed to hold promise for CU. The offense stopped turning it over, and that led to some nice touchdown drives. A K.D. Nixon score where he turned on the jets and an accurate dart to Juwann Winfree gave Montez two touchdowns, and Buff fans some hope. The 3-yard touchdown pass to Winfree pulled the Buffs within 27-21 at the end of the third quarter.
It’s not over until the clock hits zeros. And given how Colorado’s unorthodox season had gone, Rick George was giving his best effort to support the Buffs. CU’s athletic director was down on the sideline after Winfree’s touchdown to encourage the players.
With the score still 27-21, CU needed to score to regain momentum. Instead, a late hit by Drew Lewis gave the Golden Bears a second chance at a touchdown— and they took it. An 11 play, 72-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard TD pass from Chase Garbers to Maurice Ways. An unsuccessful two-point try held the score at 33-21 for the rest of the game.
The Buffs had their chances and completely missed them. Cal understandably slowed their offense down to a crawl, and a “controversial” roughing the kicker penalty snuffed the life out of CU’s season. Those numerous opportunities in the fourth quarter resulted in Colorado going scoreless, and is was not what the Buffs had hoped for a week after the firing of coach Mike MacIntyte.
Despite an outstanding effort by Colorado’s defense by holding Cal to 1-17 on third down conversions. The second worst by an opponent in CU history (dating back to 1953); the only worst performance by an opponent was on Oct. 24, 1992, when Kansas State was 0-of-12 in a 54-7 Colorado win. The Buffs outgained the Golden Bears 318 to 217 in total yards, along with 19 to 12 on first downs.
Montez went 16-of-33, 170 yards for two touchdowns to three interceptions in the losing effort. Travon McMillian finished the season with 1,009 yards rushing and Laviska Shenault Jr. with 1,011 receiving yards. It’s the first time in CU history with a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season.
Colorado finishes the 2018 season with a 5-7 record. The focus now turns to who CU will name as the 26th coach in school history. A long nine month period that starts with the early signing period on Dec. 19.