LINCOLN, Neb. — Move over, Kordell Stewart and Darian Hagan. Make room for another CU legend. Quarterback Steven Montez beat the team that Buffs love to hate most.
Ever hear the air go out of a stadium? It sounds like a Big Red whimper. And Montez delivered the gut punch, throwing a 40-yard touchdown strike with 66 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, allowing Colorado to beat Nebraska 33-28.
“Not bad,” Montez said, “for a knucklehead.”
A knucklehead knows no fear. Montez, in a duel with superb Nebraska freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez, hit the Huskers with his best shot, completing 33-of-50 passes for 351 yards.
Colorado had not played the Huskers since 2010. This victory was worth the wait. Mike MacIntyre was named the best coach in the nation two years ago, but this was his signature victory. This was his first trip to Lincoln. And MacIntyre spoiled the party of new coach Scott Frost, a favorite son of Nebraska, working on the sideline in his first big game, hoping to ride the emotional wave of support from a crowd of 89,853 at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s all wiped out when you lose,” Frost said.
You can cry if you wanna, Bugeaters.
The only thing more intense in this game than the drama was the anxiety. The Buffs rocked Nebraska by racing to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, then gave it all away. But they hung tough, even when Colorado running backs went nowhere against the Nebraska blackshirts and field-goal attempts by kicker James Stefanou went wide and wider left.
When the Buffs looked up at the scoreboard, trailing 28-20 with only 5:35 on the clock in the final period, “they didn’t flinch one bit,” MacIntyre said.
The winning touchdown pass was a beautiful strike from Montez to Viska Shenault.
There were too many heroes for Colorado to count. But let’s start with sophomore linebacker Nate Landman, who made an interception so powerful it killed big mo for the Big Red. Landman led the Buffs with 13 tackles, including a key one that prevented Nebraska from moving the sticks on fourth down.
“I just heard a couple alums out there say ‘Thank you.’ That just proves how big this game is, has been in the past and how big it is for not only us here, but everybody back in Colorado,” Landman said.
Every signature victory needs a little bit of luck, and Buffaloes receiver Jay MacIntyre would not have been grinning from ear to ear after the game if his bell had not been rung with an unnecessary-roughness penalty that kept the 77-yard, seven-play drive that won the game alive.
Then Colorado had to hold to that 33-28 lead for a final 66 seconds that seemed like an eternity, as Nebraska marched down the field, led by backup quarterback Andrew Bunch, forced into action when a knee injury sent Martinez to the bench.
Truth be told, as Bunch took one last snap a mere 20 yards from the end zone with three seconds left on the clock, Montez couldn’t watch. He turned his back to the field, bowed his head and listened, listened intently, as CU teammate Josh Goldin gripped his shoulder.
“I couldn’t look,” Montez.
The last-gasp pass by Nebraska fell harmlessly incomplete. Montez exhaled and looked for somebody, anybody, to hug.
But, in his next breath, the quarterback of a 2-0 CU team almost certain to begin garnering votes in the polls began to think about bigger goals.
Montez has his sights set on a Pac-12 Conference championship.
No matter what happens from here on out, he beat the Cornhuskers, only the 19th time Colorado has won in 70 games against Nebraska.
Not bad for a knucklehead.