BOULDER, Colorado (AP) — The Colorado Buffaloes had an even bigger celebration in store after their fans stormed Folsom Field in the aftermath of interim head coach Mike Sanford's successful debut Saturday.
Back in the racious locker room following their 20-13 overtime upset of Cal, running back Deion Smith was up and walking around after being immobilized and stretchered off the field in the fourth quarter.
“So a lot of fears that everybody has when somebody comes off on a stretcher, I was able to assure the team that’s nothing that we have to be concerned with,” Sanford said.
"So Deion is up and walking and, I think he was emotional because he didn't have a chance to celebrate on the field with his teammates. But he was a huge part of that victory, both in his play and more importantly, just how much this team loves him and showed their support for him."
The entire Buffaloes team gathered around Smith, many in prayer while medical staffs from both teams worked on him.
“That was a moment that I'll never forget in my coaching career, the brotherhood that was shown through that moment," said Sanford.
Watching him get carted off “gave us a lot of fire,” said Smith's backup, Anthony Hankerson.
And watching him walking around afterward was the really big boost.
After J.T. Shrout threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Montana Lemonious-Craig in overtime, Jack Plummer had Mason Starling wide open for the score on first-and-goal from the 10 for Cal but strong safety Trevor Woods arrived just after the soft pass and popped the ball loose.
“I saw the ball lobbed in there, and he didn't really make an effort to go get it,” Woods said. “I punched it as hard as I could.”
When Plummer's fourth-down pass fell incomplete, the students stormed the field to celebrate Colorado's first win of the season.
Sanford inherited a team that was off to just the fourth 0-5 start in school history, one that cost Karl Dorrell his job as head coach. Sanford placed an immediate emphasis on physicality and takeaways, which paid off beginning with Colorado’s first defensive series when Tyrin Tyler set the tone with a diving interception, the Bears' first turnover in four games.
Cal (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) entered the game as a 15½-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, but Dario Longhetto was wide left on field-goal tries going both ways, missing from 54 yards in the first quarter and 48 in the second.
Longhetto was good from 34 yards as time expired in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. The Bears won the toss and chose to start out on defense.
The Buffs (1-5, 1-2) were setting up for Cole Becker's 40-yard field goal in the extra period when officials stopped the game for a prolonged review that showed Lemonious-Craig's right cleat was down just before he was shoved out of bounds by cornerback Collin Gamble.
“I had no idea” the call would be reversed, Sanford said. “I thought it was clearly out of bounds.”
So did the official, who ruled it an incompletion.
“I knew I was in,” Lemonious-Craig insisted. “I got up and told the ref, ‘C’mon, give it to me, please.'”
He didn't, but the replay official did. So, Becker lined up for the extra point instead, which gave Colorado its biggest lead at 17-10.
Smith got hurt on a big fumble-forcing hit from Gamble after a catch in the right flat early in the fourth quarter. Outside linebacker Xavier Carlton recovered the loose football and the Bears tied it at 10 after play resumed.
The only scoring in the first half came on Becker’s 31-yard field goal with four minutes left in the second quarter following a penalty that wiped out Jordan Tyson’s 11-yard touchdown catch from Owen McCown.
Shrout replaced McCown, who was ailing from a hit to his abdomen, midway through the second half and drove the Buffaloes to their first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Hankerson with 14:25 remaining that gave CU a 10-7 lead.
J. Michael Sturdivant's diving 14-yard touchdown catch from Plummer had put the Bears up 7-3 with 5:49 left in the third quarter.
“It's very hard to win at this level scoring one touchdown," Bears coach Justin Wilcox said. “You've got to put the ball in the end zone, and credit to them. They did it more than we did.”
The Bears' troubles continued in Boulder, where they haven't won since 2011.
The Buffs not only will avoid a winless season but they saw a big crowd of 50,471 and gleefully watched thousands of them storm the field.
Cal CB Lu-Magia Hearns III was hurt. He limped to the sideline just before the fourth quarter.
Cal hosts Washington on Oct. 22, and Colorado visits Oregon State.
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