Carson Wells drilled Washington quarterback Dylan Morris to force an incomplete pass on the Huskies’ last-ditch effort to win the game. Then, Wells stood on the sidelines and watched the Colorado offense line up in victory formation.
“There’s no better feeling at the end of the game,” Wells said.
Wells and the Buffs haven’t experienced that feeling often this year, but on Saturday at Folsom Field, they overcame a bad performance by the offense by playing opportunistic defense and knocking off Washington, 20-17 in the home finale.
“Very stressful game,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “But it was a hard-fought win. I’m very proud of this team.”
CU (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) won its third consecutive home game and eliminated Washington (4-7, 3-5) from contention for bowl eligibility.
The Buffs finished with a dismal 183 yards on offense, but forced four turnovers and held off a late Washington rally.
“We found a way to win another game at home,” Dorrell said. “It’s interesting, you look at that stat sheet and you would say, ‘How did they win that game?’ I think it was we were opportunistic on the turnovers. That gave us an opportunity to win and get some points on the board.”
Washington had two turnovers inside the CU 30-yard line, including a fumble at the 3-yard line that Buffs’ linebacker Jack Lamb scooped up and returned 88 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
CU recovered another Washington fumble at the Huskies’ 7-yard line late in the third quarter. The Buffs converted that into a field goal that gave them a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Nine plays later, CU freshman Nikko Reed picked off a Morris pass in the end zone. That set up CU’s best offensive drive of the game. Quarterback Brendon Lewis engineered a 14-play, 90-yard march, capping it with a 2-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 20-10 with 4 minutes, 5 seconds to play.
“Offensively, we still didn’t have a lot of production, but their production came when they needed it,” Dorrell said. “We had a 90-yard drive when we needed a 90-yard drive.”
CU still had to hang on, though.
Washington responded with a 55-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Ja’Lynn Polk with 2:30 to play.
After a CU punt, the Huskies had one more opportunity, but the CU defense rose to the challenge. The game plan for that last series was simple.
“Sack the quarterback,” Wells said. “Get after him. Affect him. Hit him. Everything. Just get after him.”
After the Huskies gained five yards on the first two plays, Lang and Wells broke up passes on back-to-back plays to clinch the win.
“They knew they needed to make a stand,” Dorrell said. “And that was something that this team is learning through this process, understanding the adversity that games present, and then how you have to step up.”
CU has dealt with plenty of adversity this season and had a bit more on Saturday.
Lamb’s fumble return gave CU a 10-0 lead, but Washington closed the first half on a 10-0 run to tie the game.
On offense, the Buffs gained 58 yards on 10 plays on the initial drive of the game, capping it with a Cole Becker field goal. In its next seven possessions combined, the offense generated just 58 yards on 23 plays.
“They’re challenging at times with what they do,” Dorrell said of the Washington defense. “And it just wasn’t a great matchup for us. They were stout inside, where the run game was really hard to really establish. Then their passing system and because they put pressure on the quarterback, they’re one of the top passing defenses, statistically, in the nation.”
Meanwhile, the Huskies dominated the Buffs on third downs, converting a remarkable 14-of-21 times. They gained 198 of their 426 yards on third down plays.
“On those third and longs, we’ve got to get better pressure,” Wells said. “We can’t let the quarterback just sit there and wait on the crossing route to just outrun somebody.”
Despite that, just three of Washington’s 12 possessions generated points.
“We just kept playing,” Wells said. “The whole time we kept telling each other we’re playing for each other. … It was bend but don’t break. We kept fighting the whole game.”
It wasn’t the typical formula to win a game, but in a season where wins have been difficult to find, the Buffs will take it.
“To be able to sing that fight song one last time in Folsom means a lot,” senior tight end Matt Lynch said. “The whole senior day process for sure had some tears in the eyes and it’s hard to hold back a little bit, but I’m glad we were able to hold it off and secure the win.”
Colorado 20, Washington 17
Play of the game: Linebacker Jack Lamb scooped up a Washington fumble in the first quarter and raced 88 yards for a touchdown. It was the third-longest fumble return for touchdown in CU history.
Turning point: Washington’s fumble at its own 7-yard line late in the third quarter of a tie game gave the Buffs an opportunity to take a 13-10 lead with a field goal. CU then added a touchdown to take a 10-point lead into the final minutes.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. OLB Carson Wells: He was dominant in his final game at Folsom Field, registering seven tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and two pass breakups. He also had two QB hurries.
2. LB Robert Barnes: Played his best game as a Buff. He had nine tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery.
3. LB Jack Lamb: Had the biggest play of the game when he returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown. He added three tackles and a QB hurry.
Colorado 20, Washington 17
Washington 0 10 0 7 — 17 Colorado 10 0 0 10 — 20
First Quarter: COLO — FG Becker 35, 9:52. COLO — Lamb 88 fumble return (Becker kick), 2:37. Second Quarter: WASH — FG Henry 30, 12:46. WASH — Odunze 8 pass from Morris (Henry kick), 2:11. Fourth Quarter: COLO — FG Becker 22, 14:35. COLO — B.Lewis 2 run (Becker kick), 4:05. WASH — Polk 55 pass from Morris (Henry kick), 2:30.
WASH COLO First downs 22 8Total Net Yards 435 183Rushes-yards 27-45 27-71Passing 390 112Punt Returns 3-21 1-23Kickoff Returns 1-29 0-0Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-0Comp-Att-Int 35-57-2 14-25-0Sacked-Yards Lost 3-13 1-6Punts 2-55.5 7-41.857Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0Penalties-Yards 7-70 5-36Time of Possession 36:07 23:53
RUSHING — Washington, C.Davis 11-27, Morris 5-10, Pleasant 6-8, Sunday 3-6, O’Brien 1-(minus 1), (Team) 1-(minus 5). Colorado, Broussard 12-43, B.Lewis 6-30, D.Smith 3-2, Fontenot 3-1, (Team) 3-(minus 5).
PASSING — Washington, Morris 34-53-2-389, O’Brien 1-3-0-1, McMillan 0-1-0-0. Colorado, B.Lewis 14-25-0-112.
RECEIVING — Washington, Odunze 9-68, C.Davis 7-60, Culp 6-83, Pleasant 3-38, T.Davis 3-31, McMillan 3-17, Polk 2-60, Westover 2-33. Colorado, Russell 3-31, Arias 3-22, T.Robinson 2-8, Fontenot 2-6, Carpenter 1-15, Lynch 1-13, Stanley 1-9, Broussard 1-8.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Washington, Henry 49.