Contact CU Independent football beat writer Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo
The University of Colorado football team again fell just short of victory, as the Buffaloes were bested by USC 27-24 Saturday night at Folsom Field during Colorado’s annual senior night.
The Buffs’ 15 seniors who played their last game in Boulder Saturday evening were honored in a pregame ceremony.
On top of the frustrating loss, the Buffs (4-7, 1-6 Pac-12) will be without the services of their starting quarterback for the remainder of the season, as junior Sefo Liufau suffered a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot at the end of the first quarter. He will likely miss six to eight months with the injury.
“He’s such a warrior and such a leader, just a phenomenal young man,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “It’s a tough deal.”
Liufau would finish his one quarter of play with with 94 passing yards while completing six of eight attempted passes.
Despite the early loss of Liufau, the Buffs fought hard, making the Trojans play on their toes until the clock ran out.
Thank quarterback Cade Apsay for a watchable game. The redshirt freshman from Canyon Country, California, exceeded all expectations in his first extended appearance in a college football game. But it didn’t come easy.
With the Buffs up 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, and with news that Liufau was out for the game, Apsay was called upon to take charge of the offense. On his first snap of the game, he was sacked for a loss of eight yards.
This marked the beginning of a difficult outing for Apsay, who still managed an impressive performance despite constantly being harassed by USC’s front seven. Apsay was sacked five times by the Trojans’ defense, and quite often his passing pocket seemed to disintegrate within seconds.
But Apsay made the best of his opportunities. With a 7-3 lead in the second quarter, Apsay and the offense capitalized on senior safety Jered Bell’s interception of Trojans’ quarterback Cody Kessler, which put the ball on the USC 26-yard line. Five plays and 26 yards later, the Buffaloes were up 14-3 after Apsay threw a bullet to senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce in the end zone.
Apsay would finish with 128 passing yards and two touchdown passes. He completed 18-23 attempted passes in the loss.
It was a memorable night for both Bell and Spruce, as the former recorded his seventh career interception in a Buffaloes uniform, which ties him with Medford Moorer for second place on the all-time list. With his first half touchdown, Spruce moved into a first place tie with Scotty McKnight on the school’s all-time receiving touchdowns record with 22.
After the game, Spruce would be honored with the Buffalo Heart Award, which has been given out annually since 1998 by “the fans behind the bench” to the Colorado football player who “best represents what it means to be a Buffalo.”
Spruce would finish the day with seven receptions for 94 yards to go along with his touchdown.
The Buffs held a 17-6 lead over the Trojans heading into halftime.
From that point, the Buffaloes looked to remedy their usual issues regarding offensive inefficiency and eventually getting worn down on defense. Unfortunately for Colorado, those very problems would put victory just out of reach.
“We didn’t go and finish the game like we’re supposed to,” said sophomore tailback Phillip Lindsay. “We kind of gave it to them. That’s what irritates us the most. It’s tough and it gives you a sickening feeling, because it came down to us, the players.”
For a good chunk of the game, the Buffs’ defense did a good job of containing USC’s offensive weapons. The Trojans’ standout receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who averages 6.3 receptions and 116 yards per game, was limited to three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
“[The defense] was good, but it wasn’t enough,” Bell said. “I’m very disappointed because I know we can beat these teams.”
Junior defensive back Chidobe Awuzie led the team with 11 total tackles.
The true backbreaker for Colorado came with the Buffs down 17-13 in the third quarter. After sophomore tailback Donovan Lee returned a kickoff 37 yards to give the Buffs’ offense a good starting field position, senior tailback Christian Powell fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive, handing the ball back to the Trojans at the Colorado 34-yard line.
Beginning with a field goal as time expired in the second quarter, USC scored 24 unanswered points to carry a 27-17 lead into the final minutes of the game.
The Buffs would finally answer with a late touchdown on a short pass from Apsay to sophomore fullback George Frazier with about seven minutes left in the game. The score was largely due to a 45-yard punt return from Spruce to the USC five-yard line.
With the Buffs down 27-24, the defense came up with a huge stop, forcing the Trojans to punt the ball. The Buffs took over at their own 21-yard line with 4:38 left in the game. They made steady progress, but stalled, managing only five yards on their final four offensive plays of the game.
“There [were] a lot of things I could [have done] better,” Apsay said after the game. “Execute better, make better decisions, better checks; it was okay. I could do better for sure.”
The Trojans’ offense would let time expire with about a minute left in the game.
“This hurt, and then with Sefo’s situation this really hurt,” MacIntyre said. ”We had our opportunities, and so it hurts that much more.”
The Buffs will finish their season on the road. They will play the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, Nov. 21, in Pullman. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. MST.