BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado's comeback isn't complete just yet. So, consider this party just a prelude.
"We're one win away! It feels great," senior defensive end Jordan Carrell said as he weaved his way through a sea of Buffs fans who stormed the field following ninth-ranked Colorado's 27-22 win over No. 21 Utah on Saturday night.
Sporting a black and gold "Make CU Great Again" cap, wide receiver Devin Ross swore the message still represented more of an ambition than an arrival.
"Not yet," he said. "But we're close."
Started from the bottom.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 27, 2016
The Buffs (11-2, 8-1) secured a trip to the conference championship against sixth-ranked Washington (11-1, 8-1) next weekend with another dazzling defensive performance, one that included:
—Ten pass breakups.
—Eight tackles for loss.
—Two fourth-down stops.
"They got my back," said senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had a rare off night, fumbling the ball away twice and throwing just one touchdown pass.
The Buffaloes lost 40 of their first 45 league games after joining the Pac-12 in 2011, including a 1-8 mark just a year ago.
"Worst to first, not many people can say they did that," coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Our young men did that and now we've got one more to do that is our ultimate, that's what we set out to do. ... We just got to go get one against Washington."
With the first sellout crowd in Boulder since 2008 itching to storm the field, the Utes (8-4, 5-4) pulled to 27-22 on Demari Simpkins' 7-yard TD catch with 1:34 remaining.
The 2-point conversion toss by Troy Williams was incomplete, and the Utes' onside kick failed when Kabion Ento recovered for Colorado.
"Nobody thought we'd be here, especially four years ago," said CU senior safety Tedric Thompson, who had two interceptions and broke up four passes.
As soon as the clock hit all zeros, thousands among the crowd of 52,301 ignored the public address announcer's plea to wait a minute before storming the field.
Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode scooped up Joe Williams' second fumble and returned it 10 yards for a TD that made it 27-16 early in the fourth quarter.
In the third quarter, Chidobe Awuzie recovered when Williams fumbled at the Colorado 2 after a 12-yard gain.
"Joe was a huge part of our success this season," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He was a huge value to our football team. He struggled tonight, put the ball on the ground a few times. But I love Joe Williams."
Liufau's 6-yard TD toss to Shay Fields on the final play of the third quarter was the senior's 60th, tying Cody Hawkins' school record and breaking a 13-13 tie.
Kyle Fulks returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards but a diving Awuzie knocked Fulks out of bounds at the 3, a tackle that proved pivotal when the Utes had to settle for a field goal that made it 20-16.
Utah: The Utes had another fine season but they lost three of their last four games with close defeats at home to Washington and Oregon before losing in Boulder for the first time since Sept. 28, 1957. Boobie Hobbs' 55-yard return on Alex Kinney's line-drive punt gave the Utes a quick 7-0 lead but he later left with an unspecified injury.
Colorado: The Buffs held Joe Williams to 97 yards on 26 carries, 58 yards below his average, and they limited Troy Williams to 160 yards on 13 of 40 passing. So, they roll into the Pac-12 title game on the strength of their first six-game winning streak since 1996.
The Buffs could inch up in the poll and the Utes did nothing to merit slipping.
Utah: Despite a second straight loss, the Utes await another bowl bid, their 11th in 14 seasons under Whittingham.
Colorado: The Buffs play for their first Pac-12 championship.