BOULDER, Colo. — A frothing sea of red loud enough to drown out whistles spread around Folsom Field, the ribbon of Nebraska football fans growing biggest and loudest right near the pathway that led from NU’s locker room to the playing surface.
The debate raged all game. Was it 25,000 Husker fans? Maybe 30,000? Could it really be 35,000? The sea roared long and loud, especially as a Husker running back took off on a catch-and-run that almost surely had to punch out pesky Colorado for good.
Husker fans packed CU’s stadium corner to corner, with red comprising at least half of the sellout crowd.
Except Nebraska did not put its collective foot on the throats of the Buffaloes, who surged — as they often do late in games, 5,000 feet above sea level, against NU — just as the Huskers wilted.
And when No. 25 NU lost 34-31 in overtime — which meant losing a 17-point halftime lead and a 10-point fourth-quarter lead — Colorado students, profane and celebratory, blitzed the field and rushed to the biggest chunk of red.
The students proceeded to taunt the Nebraska faithful, vigorously, with all manners of hand gestures, dance moves, chest puffs and chants. Overrated! Shuck the Huskers! Most NU fans, seemingly frozen in place, just stared. A few flipped their own birds. A few gestured to bring it on.
For five minutes, it went on like this, a mad scene at the end of a wild game that left many Huskers close to angry tears. Nebraska’s players talked their share in the week before the game and dominated nearly three quarters of that game. And then — to swallow this loss? In front of so much red?
“We let the fans down,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said.
“I’ve only been part of a couple that are tougher than this,” said coach Scott Frost, who clicked a pen throughout his postgame press conference, the speed of the clicking perhaps matching the speed of his mind racing to figure out how, in Husker heck, a game so in Nebraska’s control wiggled away.
In front of 52,829 at Folsom Field, Nebraska had a dream first half. Couldn’t write a better script. Touchdowns on its first and third drives. A field goal after that. A flawless passing performance from Martinez in the first half — 9 for 9, 180 yards, one touchdown — that paired, like a good Boulder brew, quite nicely with the Blackshirts’ shutout of a high-powered Buffalo offense.
NU had outgained CU 266-84 at halftime, and Nebraska got the ball to start the second half. Frost said he saw a hungry, excited team ready to strike the finishing blows.
The Huskers’ offense had four straight punts instead. Frost had to burn a timeout before his team even ran a play in the third quarter. Nebraska’s offense scored only 66 third-quarter points last season. It hasn’t scored any yet in 2019.
“We’ve got to have a killer instinct about us and finish drives,” Frost said.
As a result, Frost said, the Blackshirts got a little tired. Nebraska’s defensive front seven, which allowed zero CU rushing yards in the first half, started to relent on a sunny, 88-degree afternoon. The Huskers started missing tackles, especially on an 11-yard touchdown run by Colorado running back Jaren Mangham. So NU’s defensive backs crept up a little more to respect the run. And that, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez said, is when the Buffaloes struck fire, taking advantage of one-on-one matchups on the edges of the field.
CU (2-0 overall) hit a daring 96-yard flea-flicker to start the fourth quarter, in which Montez caught the Huskers in a blitz with single coverage on the outside. He threw to a wide open K.D. Nixon, who broke a tackle of Cam Taylor-Britt at midfield and ran unharmed into the end zone. It was the longest play from scrimmage in Colorado history.
“Talk about the guts to call that,” Montez said. “On our own 4? I mean, just guts.”
“Everything they did, it was in the scouting report,” inside linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “We just didn’t execute well. I felt I played a poor game — one of my worst games.”
Nebraska (1-1) answered on its next offensive play with the most dazzling catch-and-run of Maurice Washington’s career, a 75-yard swing pass that turned into a track meet, with thousands of Husker fans cheering him to the finish line. NU led 24-14. Plenty of time? Yes. A two-score lead, too.
Colorado then scored in less than two minutes with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Martinez fumbled during a sack on NU’s next series; CU recovered at the 20 and converted that into a field goal. Tie game.
The Huskers punched back again, with another touchdown drive — eight plays, 75 yards — that ended with Martinez converting a fourth down into a touchdown with a 6-yard bull run. He screamed in excitement and the red screamed along with him at a 31-24 lead. When Taylor-Britt forced a fumble by Colorado’s Laviska Shenault on the ensuing kickoff, Nebraska had a chance to ice the game with a couple of first downs.
Martinez was called for intentional grounding on the first play when he launched a pass far beyond any receiver. The Huskers later punted.
“Last year we were bad in four-minute offense, and that led us to take too big of a chance on first down, and that was a bad decision,” Frost said.
Nebraska wasn’t very good at stopping opponents late in games last year, either.
Remember the losses to Colorado, Northwestern and Iowa? Add CU, déjà vu.
Montez took the Buffs 71 yards in 10 plays, hitting Tony Brown for a 26-yard touchdown over the outstretched arms of NU corner Lamar Jackson to tie the game. In overtime, Colorado settled for a field goal. Nebraska put up a goose egg for the fifth straight overtime game, dating back to 2015. Washington gained 1 yard on two runs, Martinez took a sack, and Isaac Armstrong — the NU senior punter filling in for injured starting kicker Barret Pickering — badly missed a 48-yard field goal.
That triggered the swarm of Colorado students who presented the only real resistance to the wall of noise coming from the fans in red. Encircled as they were by security staff that still, curiously, let them on the field, they almost resembled a protest group, jeering at their ideological opponents across the way.
It’s a display befitting of Colorado’s reputation, and probably a little shocking to NU fans. But it’s fair to note, too, that Nebraska players did their share of chirping during the week. More than Colorado did. Montez, amused before the game, was pointed and accusatory in his criticism after his second straight win over the Huskers.
Earlier this week, Colorado quarterback Steven Montez said Nebraska had "done enough talking" for both teams. On Saturday, he spoke.
“To be honest, I think they talked themselves right out of the game,” Montez said. “I think they came in too amped up. Before the coin toss they were talking trash, they were at the bottoms of the piles talking trash. They were spitting, they were doing dirty stuff. They got what was coming for them.”
Husker players seemed hollowed out, angry in the aftermath.
“I don’t care how many times we’re on the field,” Barry said. “I don’t care how many plays we’re playing. We signed up for this type of deal.”
Martinez took ownership for his mistakes — two lost fumbles, a late interception — and didn’t care that an overtime snap from center Cameron Jurgens was low and on the ground — one of the day’s few bad snaps at the worst time.
“Regardless of the snap, who gives a (expletive)? You know? I’ve got to be able to make the play,” Martinez said.
The quarterback vowed, too, to rebound quickly from a loss that could linger into this week’s preparation for Northern Illinois. It was, according to teammates, a leadership moment for Martinez, perhaps the hour he moves from California cool to someone fierce and fiery.
“I wanted this game,” Martinez said. “And we wanted this game. We had that mindset coming in and we lost, plain and simple. We’re going to have to bounce back. It’s tough, it’s tough. But like I told those guys in the locker room, ‘Remember this, remember this feeling. Let’s not feel it again.’ It’s tough. Stuff happens. Good teams will bounce back, great teams will do even better. That’s where my head’s at. Obviously, I feel terrible.”
The sea of red did, too.
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