5:00 PM ET, September 9, 2006
DENVER (AP) -- Sonny Lubick, Colorado State's 69-year-old coach, says he made the best two calls of his career Saturday during the 78th version of the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
One was a timeout that negated Mason Crosby's career-best 61-yard field goal and the other was a deep pass in the closing minutes that iced the Rams' 14-10 win over Colorado at Invesco Field.
But there was one call that loomed even larger than those as the Rams (2-0) avenged three consecutive last-minute losses to the Buffs, who have lost six straight for the first time in 26 years.
Colorado (0-2) pulled a surprise by starting speedster Bernard Jackson at quarterback in place of the methodical James Cox, who was dismal in coach Dan Hawkins' debut last week.
"We just thought Bernard would give us a spark, and he did," Hawkins said.
That spark, however, quickly flamed out.
Jackson directed an opening scoring drive that covered 65 yards in nine plays with all the yards coming on the ground, including the payoff, a naked bootleg around the right side from 3 yards out.
Caught completely off-guard, Lubick told defensive coordinator Steve Stanard to alter the game plan.
"I told Steve blitz him every damn down," Lubick said. "That was the adjustment."
They didn't quite do that, but the Rams did play mostly base defense and focused on the run to stifle Jackson the rest of the day, limiting him to 70 yards on 8-of-13 passing and 30 yards on 18 carries. Cox completed 1-of-2 passes for a yard in spot duty.
"They weren't throwing the ball deep," Rams safety Ben Stratton said. "If you're not going to throw the ball downfield, it's easy to put nine guys in the box and stop the run."
Which is precisely what the Buffs were thinking in the closing minutes after watching Caleb Hanie dink and dunk his way through the Buffs' defense, completing 87 percent of his passes, mostly on screens.
On third-and-8 from the Buffs' 43 with 2½ minutes left, Lubick changed the call from a safe run to a risky pass, and Hanie capped his nearly perfect performance with a beautiful 32-yard sideline toss to Johnny Walker at the Colorado 11.
"We called a conservative run at first, and then coach Lubick came up and said, 'What are you all doing?' And he said just play-fake and go deep," Hanie said. "It was a risky call."
"All game we haven't gone deep," marveled Walker.
The season has started poorly for the in-state rivals. Three Rams players and two former players were arrested earlier this week in a bank-fraud investigation. The Buffaloes' embarrassment came on the field. They lost their opener to Division I-AA Montana State.
The Rams' fortunes improved Saturday thanks to a defense that limited Colorado to 28 yards in the second half and Hanie's precision passing. He was 20-for-23 -- with two throwaways and just one bad throw all day -- for 233 yards and a touchdown.
"That's Caleb," receiver Kory Sperry said. "He strives for perfection."
It's not like he had all day either; he was sacked six times, three times by Abraham Wright.
Hanie, who completed his first 14 passes and finally threw one away while under pressure with 8 seconds left in the third quarter, led CSU to a 14-10 halftime lead when he scored on a 3-yard keeper and threw a 3-yard TD strike to Sperry.
With the Rams' running game as stifled as the Buffs' ground game was, Hanie relied on a bevy of screen passes, many of them to Walker, who caught 10 passes for 158 yards.
"We could stop the run but we couldn't stop the screen," Buffs linebacker Jordon Dizon said. "They killed us the whole game. We have to get better at that. We have to work on that because I know teams are going to do that to us in the future."
Colorado State tied it at 7 on Hanie's 3-yard run, but the Buffs regained the lead on Crosby's 26-yard field goal, his school record 49th, following Terrence Wheatley's fumble recovery at the CSU 26.
Cox entered the game on third-and-5 at the Colorado 15 -- and he promptly called timeout with one second left in the first quarter. That wasted timeout came back to haunt the Buffs when they couldn't get the field goal unit onto the field at the end of the first half.
Jackson took the snap with 20 seconds left and hit Alvin Barnett for a 12-yard gain on a slant at the left hash mark, bringing up third-and-1 at the Rams' 25. The Buffs had nine seconds left but Jackson dawdled and time ran out before he could spike the ball.
The Rams, conversely, made great use of a timeout in the second half.
As Crosby's career-long 61-yard field goal was sailing through the uprights by a good 15 yards, the officials were waving it off because the Rams had called timeout after Lubick counted a dozen defenders.
After the timeout, Crosby had the distance but the ball sailed wide left.
"It was a great game," Dizon said. "I said before that the team that comes out here with the most heart and pride is going to win the game. They beat us, so I guess you could say they have more heart and pride right now."
And they also have the Centennial Cup, a silver goblet that gives them bragging rights for a year.