The Colorado Buffaloes have some bad memories from their past trips to Lincoln. That string of blowouts and close losses feels a little more distant after a triumphant win in the return of a rivalry series.
In an ugly, gritty game that looked great at first, and then very quickly didn’t, Colorado rallied for a 33-28 victory over Nebraska. Steven Montez hit a streaking Laviska Shenault down the far sideline for a 40-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the game to ruin the season opener for coach Scott Frost on Saturday.
The struggle was real in Lincoln and it was felt by both teams.
The Buffaloes defense came through early with two forced fumbles on the initial Cornhuskers drives, setting up Montez with an open field and momentum to work with. CU’s leader used that to his advantage, going 6-of-6 with 72 passing yards on the Buffs first drive. Shenault would take a 4-yard run out of a wildcat formation to put CU up 14-0 with 6:47 remaining in the first quarter.
Nebraska wouldn’t stay shut out for long against their neighboring state foes.
Adrian Martinez answered the call in his first start as a true freshman, dashing for a 41-yard touchdown run on a misdirection play that cut the Buffs lead to a score. The young quarterback quickly adjusted to the big stage and gave CU problems all game long.
Colorado’s defense struggled against Nebraska’s option run, allowing 329 yards on the ground. Martinez finished the evening completing 15-of-20 passes, for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cornhuskers stacked together 21 unanswered points in the first half before the Buffaloes stopped the bleeding. A 40-yard field goal from James Stefanou with 28 seconds left before halftime cut Nebraska’s lead to four, 21-17. The Buffs opened up the second half with a 12-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in Stefanou’s second field goal from 35 yards out, taking Nebraska’s lead to one.
From that point on a dog fight ensued between the old Big Eight rivals, as eight possessions resulted in a touchdown for each team to go along with three missed field goals and an interception by the two teams.
A fourth momentum shift went in Colorado’s favor when linebacker Nate Landman picked off Martinez with the Buffs down 28-27 with 5:58 left in the game. The effort was all for not when Stefanou missing a 43-yard field goal try on the next drive, handing the Buffs defense 4:49 to stop the Huskers and help the team find a way to win.
In a big hit for the Cornhuskers, Martinez would be injured on Nebraska’s next series and wouldn’t return. Frost sent in walk-on quarterback Andrew Bunch in place of Martinez on a drive that stalled, resulting in a punt to Colorado with 2:23 left in the game. Montez drove the Buffaloes down the field, converting on three third downs plays, in the game-winning 7-play, 77-yard drive that consumed 1:17 off the clock.
Only six points were scored by either team in the fourth quarter, but they were the ones that mattered the most. Montez tallied his second 300-yard passing game of the season— wrapping the day up completing 33-of-50 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Shenault, who showed that he is a superstar in a nationally televised game, led all receivers with 10 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
For Buffaloes fans, this win means more than the rankings and the box score shows. This was a game that fans and staff alike have been waiting for for a long time and through a game filled with ups and down, Colorado stands triumphant.
Colorado heads back to Boulder to meet New Hampshire for the first-ever meeting between both schools. Nebraska remains at home to face Troy next week. The Cornhuskers lost their first game of the season for the second time in the past four years (Sept. 5, 2015: 33-28, BYU) . It was the Buffs first win in Lincoln, Neb. since a 26-20 win on Nov. 29, 2004.