Oklahoma 14, Colorado 20

October 21, 1972 | at Boulder | Attendance 52,022

Oklahoma (4-0), ranked #2 in the polls behind Southern California for the fourth straight week, traveled to Boulder for a nationally televised game. Chuck Fairbanks' Sooners had been impressive in each of their first four games, outscoring their opponents 196-6 and averaging 435 yards a game rushing with the wishbone.

Meanwhile, the strength of the Big Eight conference was evident. Colorado opened the season as the second-ranked team in the land behind Nebraska, as the junior dominated squad reaped all kinds of preseason benefits after finishing '71 with a 10-2 record and a #3 final national ranking. However, a disappointing 31-6 loss at Oklahoma State in week four sidetracked the Buffaloes, but they won their next two to improve to 5-1 and climb back up to #9 in the polls.

They were under the direction of tenth-year head coach, Eddie Crowder. He had been an All-American quarterback and safety for the University of Oklahoma from 1950-52, and was a member of the Sooners' first national championship team in '50. He had chirped all week that if Texas could slow the high-powered Oklahoma offense, which held them to 245 rushing yards in a 27-0 loss, that he knew his guys could stop it.

On a cool, crisp autumn afternoon, the two teams squared off before the largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in the state of Colorado, as 52,022 piled into Folsom Field. The home team was looking to redeem themselves following last year's staggering 45-17 loss to basically these same Sooners, less quarterback Jack Mildren. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes were 17-point underdogs at kickoff.

After a scoreless first quarter, the second also seemed to be heading that way. But midway through the period, Oklahoma's Eddie Foster recovered a quick kick that was fumbled by safety John Stearns at the Colorado 35. Six plays later, Sooners' senior quarterback Dave Robertson kept it and splendidly scored from 17 yards out with 6:09 left in the first half. Rick Fulcher's extra point put Oklahoma up 7-0, and it stayed that way into the locker room, as the Sooners' defense ran their string to 18 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown. But it was a precarious and dangerous lead.

After intermission, the Colorado defense took charge. On the other side of the ball, after being a bit conservative, their offense came out and began to perform. They gained possession at the Sooner 46, and quarterback Ken Johnson kept for three yards. Next, he pitched to sophomore halfback Gary Campbell, the 200-pound Honolulu rookie who had cracked every Buff frosh rushing and scoring record a year earlier and in the game for the first time as a replacement for Charlie Davis. He broke off tackle, cut for the sideline and in a blur, set sail downfield looking for the end zone. En route, he dodged safety Dan Ruster at the 15, and tip-toed the sideline inside the five and past linebacker Jon Milstead, just catching the flag of the end zone, scoring the first touchdown of the season against the Sooners' vaunted defense. However, soccer-style kicker Fred Lima missed the extra point for the first time in his career, after 24 consecutive, and Oklahoma clung to a 7-6 lead.

A scrambling 25-yarder from Johnson to wingback Jon Keyworth drove them to the Oklahoma ten early in the third quarter. At that point though, Campbell failed to handle a Johnson handoff, and Oklahoma's standout sophomore linebacker Rod Shoate recovered the fumble.

But the Sooners couldn't move, and got only as far as the 15 before Mark Cooney threw Robertson for a two-yard loss. Backed up to punt, a high snap from All-American center Tom Brahaney and subsequent bobble left Joe Wylie with no room. He tried to ad lib, and before being hauled down around the goal line, he flipped a desperation pass towards end John Carroll. However, it didn't have a prayer, and cornerback Cullen Bryant made a shoeinged catch at the 21 and dove to the 18.

After Davis hit inside twice for three yards, he took a pitch from Johnson and swept left end for eight yards and a first down-and-goal at the Sooner seven. Then, two plays did not gain a yard. Faced with third down, Johnson, whose pinpoint deep passes would prove to be a big difference on this day, lofted a pass into the end zone for Keyworth. Defensive back Kenith Pope and Keyworth went up in unison, and the Buff made an out-of-this-world catch while falling over backwards, as the pair fell to the ground in a heap. Fullback Bo Matthews then bolted up the middle for a two-pointer, and Colorado was up 14-7 with 4:05 left in the third.

The crowd smelled the kill. The Colorado defense literally buried the Sooners' wishbone in the third quarter, played almost entirely at the north end of the field and deep in Oklahoma territory. So awesome was the Buff defense in the period that the Sooners managed to net only 13 yards total offense in the third.

Colorado cranked up a 52-yard drive on its very next possession, with two Johnson-to-Cain passes accounting for 43 yards. Lima kicked a 33-yard field goal, and the Buffaloes led 17-7 not even half a minute into the final period.

Oklahoma finally gained a first down in the second half when backup freshman quarterback Kerry Jackson sprinted 15 yards to the Sooner 35 early in the final period. A little later, after Stearns returned an intercepted Robertson pass ten yards to the Sooner 24, the lead increased to 20-7 on another 33-yard field goal by Lima at the 8:17 mark.

It's been said all along that the wishbone isn't a catch-up formation, and it became very apparent. Up until this point in the game, Robertson had been a dismal one-for-11 passing. But with the fans chanting "We're Number One!" in the stands, Oklahoma began at its 27 in the closing minutes. Robertson, finally hitting passes, moved the Sooners downfield. Faced with a fourth down-and-seven at the Colorado 43, he hit Grant Burget for a nine-yard gain to the 34, only the second time that Oklahoma had penetrated the 40-yard line. A 16-yard pass to Pruitt moved the ball to the ten, and the pair immediately hooked up again to score. Fulcher's kick made it 20-14, but there were only 73 seconds left in the game.

It would not be easy to manufacture a comeback in that amount of time. Oklahoma tried the obvious, an onside kick, but the ball squirmed all the way to the 28, where Keyworth greeted it. The game ended with Johnson falling down on three quarterback sneaks, and the Buffaloes had stunned second-ranked Oklahoma, 20-14.

It was pure pandemonium from there. Crowder and his players were already on the hash mark on the east side by the time the last second ticked off, and the coach got the traditional victory ride.

As predicted, it was the Buffaloes' defensive pursuit that provided waves of tacklers any time the Sooners tried to run wide. They proved once and for all that Oklahoma is defensible, limiting them to all-time wishbone lows of 163 yards rushing and 238 yards total offense, and in the second half, just 101, and 73 had come in the Sooners' final drive. Meanwhile, pass defense was Bryant's game. He had two interceptions and deflected three other Robertson passes, including one home run type throw intended for Carroll in the fourth quarter.

Pruitt, Oklahoma's All-American halfback and Heisman trophy candidate who averaged a staggering 16.3 yards per rush against Colorado at Norman last year, didn't have a single carry that long. He was hounded by defensive end Lennie Ciufo most of the day, and wound up with just 53 yards among his 13 carries, and his best effort went for nine yards.

"I thought we would have more offensive success than we did," said Fairbanks afterwards. "But it's a credit to their players and coaches. All we can do is compliment their efforts."

Offensively for Colorado, Johnson, Cain and Davis accounted for most of the yardage. Johnson, throwing as well as at any time in his career, was ten-for-19 for 151 yards. In fact, he didn't really throw a bad pass all day. Cain, quite possibly proving he's the best of the Big Eight's super crop of tight ends, had his best afternoon ever with five receptions for 102 yards. And Davis battled for 85 yards in 26 carries against the physical Sooners' defense, which was more yardage than the Sooners' first four victims averaged as a team.

The win would no doubt will go down as the best-ever of a Colorado gridiron team, and for the old-timers in the crowed, it had to erase the scars still remaining from the string of heart-breaking losses to Bud Wilkinson-coached Sooner teams here in the 1950's. They had wiped out more than two decades of frustration against national championship caliber University of Oklahoma football teams, and in doing so, had muscled their way back into the race for Number One.

The Colorado players, cognizant of the fact their next opponent, Missouri, had pulled an even bigger upset in toppling #8 Notre Dame, pounded each other and wary visitors with reckless abandon in the dressing room, after first throwing all of the defensive coaches into the showers. "It was late on the night of January One before one-two-three were determined last year," admitted Crowder in the Colorado dressing room, "and I just think it might go down to that again this year."

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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