A turnover by sophomore Colorado running back Marcus Houston with 6:58 left in the game gave the Cyclones the ball at the CU 25 yard line, trailing just 27-20 on the scoreboard. After a five yard penalty for a false start on Iowa State, Seneca Wallace completed a six yard pass over the middle to tight end Kyle Knock. Then disaster struck.
On the next play, Wallace fumbled the shotgun snap and the ball was picked up by Buffalo Medford Moorer at the 29 and returned 71 yards for the touchdown to put the Buffs up 34-20. The Cyclones answered on the next series after the kick off with four straight Wallace completions and a six yard keeper for the score to bring ISU back to within seven points.
With only 3:52 remaining on the clock Cyclone Tony Yelk kicked off through the end zone to give the Buffs possession at the 20 yard line. Colorado countered Iowa State's quick touchdown with their strength, the running game. Tailback Bobby Purify, playing most of the second half in place of starter Chris Brown, carried the ball six straight times culminating with a five yard touchdown scamper that made the score to 41-27, gave the Buffs the Big 12 North Championship, and sent the Cyclones back home bitterly disappointed after coming so close in their final conference contest of the 2002 season.
The brutal stretch of four conference road games in five weeks came to an end after blow-out losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State, a valiant but losing effort at Texas, and with the Big 12 North Championship on the line --- a near miss.
"They made the plays," coach Dan McCarney said. "It was anybody's game. We've closed the gap in this league, but we know we've got a ways to go if we're going to be celebrating a championship."
This game, as well as several others in the conference Saturday, only served to make the post season bowl picture more confusing for the Big 12. There were representatives from the Orange, Sugar, Alamo, Holiday and Tangerine Bowls present at the game. The only sure conclusions that could be drawn from the outcome is that Colorado is still in the hunt for an at-large BCS birth in either the Orange or Sugar Bowls and that Iowa State will not be going to any of the aforementioned bowls, with the possible exception of the Tangerine Bowl.
At half-time of the contest CU was clinging to a 17-14 lead, but Alamo Bowl chairman Norman Dugas intimated that if the Cyclones could pull the comeback, they would almost certainly receive an invitation from the San Antonio event. That had all changed by the end of the cool Rocky Mountain evening and attention shifted to the representatives of the Tangerine Bowl, Tom Wert and Dianne Goetz.
"We have our choice of the fifth, sixth and seventh teams from the Big 12 and it certainly looks as if Iowa State will be in that group," Wert said.
Saturday losses by Texas A & M and Nebraska appear to leave the Cyclones in a relatively high standing if they take care of business against Connecticut next weekend in the regular season finale. The final choice for the Tangerine may come down to either Iowa State or Texas Tech, which the Cyclones defeated earlier in the season in Ames. Tech had the big win of the weekend, however, when they dropped the Texas Longhorns 42-38.
Going into the game, Buffalo Chris Brown was the hottest runner in college football, averaging 161.7 yards per game and coming off of seven straight 100 yard performances. He added an eighth Saturday, with 129 yards before being sidelined with a bruised sternum.
No Chris Brown? No problem for Colorado. They simply inserted Bobby Purify into the lineup and were rewarded with a 180 yard output from the junior including a 50 yard scamper on the final touchdown drive. All together, the Buffs gained 331 yards on the ground. They added 187 through the air for a total offensive output of 508 yards.
"They are an awesome team," linebacker Matt Word said. "They've got so much depth at the tailback. They are really talented and they played like they wanted the Big 12 Championship. My hat's off to them and I hope they represent the Big 12 well."
Iowa State put on an eye catching offensive show themselves with 207 yards rushing and 265 passing on 24 of 35 passes. Wallace racked up 102 yards on the ground on quarterback keepers and options to add to his impressive passing totals. Five different receivers caught balls, with Lance Young, Lane Danielsen and Jack Whitver hauling in 83, 73 and 77 yards respectively.
The bad news about Wallace was his three fumbles and one interception. The interception killed an ISU drive at the end of the first half, but it was the fourth quarter fumble resulting in the Colorado touchdown that hurt the most. However, coach Dan McCarney was not about to criticize his star quarterback.
"The snap was high, but normally he'd handle it," McCarney said of the play. " It was just a mistake that was made. We'd have no chance to be part of history or have the kind of years we've had the last two years if it wasn't for Seneca Wallace."
Center Zach Butler, who made the fateful snap to Wallace, also came to the defense of his quarterback.
"We just came up a little short," Butler said. "Seneca's been our team leader and our team captain. He's done some excellent things for our program I'm honored to be on the same field with that guy. He keeps us in a lot of ball games. In that two minute drill where we got back up within seven he made some excellent plays and excellent throws."
McCarney reminded the post-game assembled media of the quality of opponents during the past five weeks when the Cyclones lost all four of their road games.
"If you're looking for negative stuff out of me, you're looking at the wrong guy," he said. "I'm extremely proud of this football team. We're going to try to win the next two games."
Senior Matt word, playing in his final game against a Big 12 opponent, was also looking to the immediate future.
"I'm upset about the loss but we've got another game and a bowl game, so we can't hang our heads," Word said. "We gave it our best shot against a real good team that's won the Big 12 North, but they just outplayed us today."
"There's never been an Iowa State team 7-0 at home," McCarney said. "So we're looking forward to that game and we're going to try to be part of history back home and get the best possible bowl bid we can."
The Cyclones face the University of Connecticut Huskies at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
Ja'Maine Billups scooped up a Chris Brown fumble in the third quarter and returned it 39 yards to the Colorado nine yard line. The fumble came just one play after Seneca Wallace bobbled a center snap to give possession to the Buffaloes. The Cyclones scored three plays later on a one yard touchdown plunge by fullback Joe Woodley. An illegal substitution penalty on Colorado gave the Cyclones a second chance after Seneca Wallace was thrown for a loss on third down.
There were mixed reviews for the special teams on Saturday. Troy Blankenship punted five times for a 43.4 yard average, but more importantly had good hang time which allowed the Cyclones to down the ball inside the 20 several times. Tony Yelk was strong on kick-offs with one exception when he hit it out of bounds. McCarney appeared to have a serious discussion with Yelk about that play and also had some words with an offensive lineman after Adam Benike's PAT was blocked by Buffalo Aaron Killion.
The weather for the game was surprisingly mild, with a temperature of 53 degrees at kick-off before a crowd of 48,728 at Folsum Field. At the end, there was at least one less person in attendance, as police handcuffed and led out of the stadium a male streaker who had jumped out of the south end zone stands and made a dash across the field wearing nothing but a thong.
What if department --- A wide open Lance Young dropped a 44 yard Wallace pass at the goal line, eerily reminiscent of a similar play in last year's game between the two teams.