BOULDER, Colo. -- Tailback Rodney Stewart's multitude of talents have the rejuvenated Colorado Buffaloes on the verge of bowl eligibility. Now, all they have to do is beat Nebraska next week in their Big 12 farewell.
Stewart ran for two touchdowns and gained a career-high 195 yards on 34 carries, caught two passes for 49 yards and completed a 23-yard halfback pass for a TD in leading Colorado past Kansas State 44-36 Saturday.
"He can do it all," teammate Scotty McKnight marveled.
Since interim coach Brian Cabral took over two weeks ago following Colorado's epic meltdown at Kansas, Stewart has had 76 touches and 419 all-purpose yards, leading the Buffaloes to the cusp of bowl eligibility.
"We've decided to run the ball -- or run the ball more," Cabral said.
With a strong, elusive, quick back like Stewart, why not?
"He's an awesome player," Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker said. "We tried to stop them on key plays, on third down and he gashed us. Rodney Stewart is a quick back. He's quick and he's fast and he can make you miss."
Stewart just shrugged. Maybe he was too tired to do anything else.
"I think I'm coming along as a running back, I think our O-line is coming along as well," Stewart said. "I'd better have had a good game. I think they're last in the Big 12 in rushing [defense]."
Despite needing a good soak in the hot tub, Stewart said he relished the increased workload.
"Yeah, I do. Give me 40 if you can," he said after averaging 35 carries the last two weeks.
He might just get that many handoffs against the Cornhuskers given how much the Buffaloes (5-6, 2-5 Big 12) would love to beat them before the schools go their separate ways, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big 10, next year.
"This program is centered around [beating] Nebraska. There's no question in my mind," Cabral said.
So Stewart will have to get ready for another grueling game.
"Yeah, he's been busy," Cabral said. "I would think he's probably getting in shape more."
Cody Hawkins threw for three TDs and 202 yards, pulling within 129 yards of Joel Klatt's career school record of 7,044, and the Buffaloes won their second straight under Cabral, who took over two weeks ago when Dan Hawkins was fired.
Kansas State (6-5, 3-5) lost starting quarterback Collin Klein late in the second quarter and couldn't quite keep up with Stewart. Klein suffered an unspecified injury when he was sacked by defensive end Josh Hartigan. He was replaced by Carson Coffman, who threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns.
The 80 combined points marked the most in the 66-game history of the series that will fade away now.
Dan Hawkins was on the field with other family members for pregame senior day celebrations that included his quarterback son. Linebacker B.J. Beatty, a native of Hawaii whose mother made leis for all 16 seniors, ran over to Hawkins and put his lei around his neck.
The festivities had barely finished when the Wildcats quickly took a double-digit lead.
Ty Zimmerman returned the short punt 41 yards to the Colorado 1, and Klein ran it in from there on the first snap. Klein scored on another 1-yard keeper to make it 14-3 the second time the Wildcats had the ball. But Will Jefferson returned the kickoff to midfield and Stewart leaped in from a yard out to start Colorado's comeback.
Daniel Thomas (58 yards on 14 carries) coughed up the ball and Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith returned it 22 yards to the Kansas State 24, and Stewart took the pitch and hit Toney Clemons in the back of the end zone from 23 yards out with his first collegiate pass to put the Buffaloes ahead for good at 16-14.
It was Colorado's first halfback touchdown pass since 1993 and Stewart's first toss since Pop Warner.
"When we're little, we're all about the same height," cracked the 5-foot-5 tailback known as "Speedy."
McKnight, a senior, scored on a 37-yard catch and run, giving the Buffs a 23-14 halftime lead. It was his school record 21st TD. He caught another from 13 yards out to make it 30-14 after a roughing penalty negated Kansas State defensive back Thomas Ferguson's interception at the Colorado 20.
From then on, the teams traded scores.
Coffman scored on a 6-yard keeper and Thomas' jump-pass to Andre McDonald pulled Kansas State to 30-22. Stewart responded with a 51-yard touchdown run, but Kansas State stayed in it as Coffman connected with Aubrey Quarles from 16 yards out on fourth-and-goal to make it 37-29.
After Colorado scored on Cody Hawkins' 3-yard touchdown toss to Paul Richardson, the Wildcats got into the end zone on fourth down again, this time with Coffman hitting Chris Harper from 23 yards out to make it 44-36.
Punter Zach Grossnickle pinned the Wildcats at their 5 with three minutes remaining. And finally, the Buffs stopped Kansas State on fourth down when Hartigan, finally close to full strength after suffering a high ankle sprain last month, recorded his third sack of the day, dropping Coffman on fourth down with a minute left.
Now, it's Big Red week for the Buffs.
"We're right where we had hoped to be going into this game," Cabral said.
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