Utah Utes football: Buffaloes renew rivalry by erasing a stain on the program
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Colorado curse is broken. The Buffalo black eye is healed.
With a 17-14 win over the Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Colorado Buffaloes erased the "stain" of not being able to win on the road in 23 tries.
"That was our number one goal this season," said Colorado head coach Jon Embree, who cradled the game ball as he fought back tears. "This is awesome. I'm happy for those kids. Four years of not winning on the road, and for them to get to see what that feels like. You know, we have a tradition at Colorado. We sing the fight song as the plane is landing. They're going to get to do that."
After the game, Embree stood before his players, some laughing, some crying, and thanked them.
"As a former player, I thanked them for taking a stain off this program," Embree said while fans continued to sing the school's fight song even after the band had quit playing. "Because that's a stain on a great program. A program that's won a national championship; a Heisman, Thorpes, Butkuses, Mackeys — that was a stain that needed to be removed, and we did it."
As the Colorado Buffaloes filed into the visitor's locker room at Rice-Eccles Stadium, they hollered, laughed, yelled at fans, embraced each other, cried and just celebrated the fact that they'd finally done what even they started to doubt they could.
"Utah was creeping back in the game, and slowly they were starting to turn things around and it was starting to get that feel," said senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, who finished with 264 yards passing and a touchdown. "That road streak, you hate to say, but it gets to you. You say, oh, here we go again. And today we didn't do that; we kept fighting and kept going at it, and slowly but surely things started to turn our way. We made one play and it was a great job."
Embree said for some players there was as much relief as their was joy as they'd been "maligned" for being unable to win on the road in the past four seasons.
"There was a lot of singing, a lot of hugging," he said when asked to describe the scene inside the locker room. "Some tears from the seniors because it's their last game, and relief, relief."
His advice to Hansen before the game was just to "go out and have fun."
Hansen said the victory will go down as one of his most memorable.
"This is everything," Hansen said. "To go out with a win, the streak ending now, it's an unbelievable feeling. And it's something I'll remember forever. I can't stop smiling."
Embree said ending the losing streak was no small accomplishment, especially in light of what Utah was fighting for.
"To come in here, they're playing for Pac-12 South possibilities, senior day for them, and for us to come in and win under those conditions, it's great," he said. The coach knew his defense, as well as it played (holding Utah to 89 rushing yards), couldn't keep Utah off the scoreboard. Utah managed to score its first touchdown after losing offensive lineman Sam Brenner and running back John White left the game with injuries.
"I told the (defense) to be ready for a shot," Embree said. "To have an opportunity to play for the Pac-12 South title, you've got to have something about you. Them and SC are probably the two hottest teams in the conference, as far as winning streaks. I knew it wasn't going to last forever keeping them off the scoreboard. It wasn't a big issue."
The Buffaloes had another scare with just under a minute remaining as Utah looked capable of sending the game to overtime.
When Utah's kicker Coleman Petersen ran onto the field to attempt the field goal that would have tied the game, there were only 21 seconds on the clock. Embree said he considered calling a timeout to ice Petersen, but when Utah decided to try and kick the 48-yard field goal without stopping the clock (the Utes had no timeouts), he took his chances.
Petersen missed the field goal — his third miss of the game.
"I just kept thinking, 'I'm glad I decided to take the wind in the fourth quarter because I felt it would help us,'" said Embree.
Both coach and players are looking forward to the budding rivalry between the two schools.
"It's a great crowd; great environment," he said laughing. "They were on us pretty good behind our bench. Felt a little bit like they don't like us. But I'm sure they're like that with everyone. They were great fans, great hospitality; it was just a heck of a deal."
Added Hansen, "This is a rivalry now. I guarantee it. It's going to be fun to see the way this rivalry goes the next couple of years because it has the makings of something special."
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