Inside CSU Rams’ “brutal” loss to CU in Rocky Mountain Showdown

BOULDER — For Colorado State, this year’s instant-classic Rocky Mountain Showdown will be remembered as the one that got away.

The Rams blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead at Folsom Field, watching a would-be historic upset over the 23.5-point favorite Buffs evaporate into the wee hours of the night.

“Brutal,” CSU quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi aptly summarized, no doubt speaking for all of Fort Collins.

CSU had a 99.4% win probability when CU got the ball back with 2:06 left, down eight points and needing to drive 98 yards for the tying touchdown plus two-point conversion. But that’s exactly what CU did, before going on to win 43-35 in double overtime.

After the Rams scored a TD at the end of the first OT, they had a chance to go for the game-winning two-point conversion. But Jay Norvell elected to kick the extra point instead. It was the last time CSU would score in the game.

“We talked about (going for it), and I didn’t feel it was right, right then,” Norvell said. “Hindsight is always 20/20.”

The Rams had all the pieces in place for the massive upset, until the tower of cards collapsed in the 11th hour.

There was the Boulder native, Fairview High School graduate Henry Blackburn, setting the tone on the back end of the Rams defense. The senior safety intercepted Shedeur Sanders on CU’s third play. Then later in the first quarter, Blackburn delivered a crunching blow to the midsection of CU star wideout Travis Hunter on a pass attempt down the sideline. Blackburn drew a personal foul penalty and the ire of the Folsom Frenzies, and Hunter later exited and headed to the hospital to be evaluated for with an undisclosed injury.

Norvell out-schemed Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes for much of the night, CSU’s much-maligned offensive line mostly owned the trenches, and the Rams had three 100-yard receivers for the first time in program history: Tory Horton (16 catches for 133 yards), Louis Brown IV (10 for 131) and tight end Dallin Holker (six for 109).

That was indicative of the play of Fowler-Nicolosi, who bounced back from an early pick-six to turn in a solid game in his second career start.

“He played in a tough environment, he made some mistakes, but he also came back and made some plays,” Norvell said.

But it was all for naught in what Norvell called “one of the best college football games I’ve ever been a part of.”

Still, the second-year coach believes the performance is something the Rams (0-2) can grow from as their schedule starts to soften.

“We played to win from the snap, and we were clear-eyed,” Norvell said. “I think we can take this season and move forward as a team and a program, and build on this performance… And our football responded to (Fowler-Nicolosi), and that’s really important.”

Even as Fowler-Nicolosi cemented himself as the starting QB — Clay Millen started CSU’s season-opening blowout loss to Washington State two weeks ago — the Rams have plenty of details to clean up. The most glaring issue: CSU was pegged for 17 penalties for 187 yards, while CU had 10 for 87.

“We had too many penalties I can’t even speak about it, because it was ridiculous,” Norvell said. “It was really a shame… I’ve never seen such a lopsided game penalty-wise. .. The penalties affected the game, let’s be honest.”

Norvell also addressed his comments on his coaches’ show from earlier in the week, when the CSU coach went viral for saying, “When I talk to grownups, I take my hat and my glasses off.” It was a clear jab at Sanders, who routinely dons a hat and sunglasses at his pressers. Norvell said he briefly addressed the subject with Sanders postgame.

“I told Deion after the game, that I was talking to my own team and reinforcing what we do,” Norvell said. “That’s what those comments were made for… But it doesn’t matter what me or Deion say, there’s going to be bad blood in this rivalry. And you’ve got to (motivate) your team to play.”

CSU has now lost six straight in the rivalry series, and dropped to 22-68-2 all-time. The Rams play at Middle Tennessee State next week, before returning to Canvas Stadium on Sept. 30 to face Utah Tech.

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