The Colorado State football team took the first step in achieving its motto of The Climb on Friday night, opening the 2014 season with an emphatic win over Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
CSU didn’t take its first lead of the game until the fourth quarter, but held the Buffaloes scoreless over the final 24 minutes, 13 seconds and scored 24 unanswered points to win the rivalry game for the second time in the past three years under head coach Jim McElwain.
“It’s a huge win,” McElwain said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am for the people of Colorado State University. Those kids in that locker room prepared to go win a football game like a good team should. There wasn’t any talking or any of that stuff; they just went out and played good football the way Colorado State Rams should.”
The 14-point victory was CSU’s largest in the Showdown since beating CU 41-14 in 1999.
Fourteen of CSU’s unanswered points – and 21 total on the night – came on the ground, with newcomers Dee Hart (139) and Treyous Jarrells (121) combining for 263 yards, an average of 6.74 per carry.
“The front (offensive line), they showed up, and we had a good game,” Jarrells said. “It’s a team effort, so whatever I can contribute to the team, I’m fine with that.”
It marked the first time two CSU running backs have rushed for 100 yards in a game since Calvin Branch (127) and Jaime Blake (138) did so in 1996 against Tennessee-Chattanooga.
“I felt really good about our running back situation, and they didn’t disappoint,” McElwain said. “I think that they have some explosive play-making ability to them. They’re guys that can not only run the ball, but catch the ball, and they obviously did a pretty good job of that.”
The Rams’ offense struggled to begin the game, punting on their first four drives and securing just 26 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
A nine-play, 76-yard drive midway through the second, though, got the Rams on the board, with Hart scoring his first of two touchdowns on an eight-yard run.
CSU received the ball to start the second half, but while driving into enemy territory, quarterback Garrett Grayson was stripped of the ball, leading to a CU touchdown nine players later.
Leading 17-7 with 9:47 to play in the third quarter, Colorado would not score again in the game.
“There was never any panic on the sideline,” McElwain said. “The secret is win this play. Eventually, you win enough plays and you’re probably going to win the game.”
Less than three minutes after CU scored, the Rams answered with Jarrells’ first career FBS touchdown after transferring from junior college. The touchdown came just two players after the Rams elected to go for it on fourth-and-one from the 22 instead of settling for a field goal.
Following a CU three-and-out, CSU again found the end zone, this time on an 18-yard strike from Grayson to sophomore receiver Rashard Higgins. The score, which capped a 92-yard drive, came with 13:10 remaining in the contest, and gave CSU its first lead, 21-17.
The Rams didn’t let up, though, forcing a three-and-out on the Buffs’ next possession and scoring seven plays after they obtained the ball again. CSU would pin the nail in the coffin with a 52-yard field goal from Lou Groza Award candidate Jared Roberts with 2:34 to play.
“It was a great win,” Hart said. “We have a lot of young guys up front who stepped up and did a great job. For the CSU program and school as a whole, it was a great start.”
On offense, Grayson threw for 134 yards and a touchdown. He finished the night with 13 completions on 23 attempts after beginning the game 1-for-6 for four yards.
In addition to leading the run game, Hart – a graduate transfer from Alabama – was the Rams’ top receiver, picking up 35 yards on three catches for 174 total on the night. Freshman Xavier Williams and transfer Steven Walker each had multiple catches during their first action as Rams.
It was the defense, though, that made big stops to keep the Rams in the game early on. Already leading 7-0, the Buffs had a first-and-goal situation at the two-yard line, but three-straight goal-line stops forced CU to settle for a field goal.
“The thing I think probably had the biggest effect on the game was the physical nature we handled that goal-line situation,” McElwain said. “Our guys worked their tails off in the workroom, and you know, we’ve got some physical guys.”
Later in the first half, CU had a first-and-10 situation from the 28, but Will Oliver’s field-goal attempt went wide left.
Max Morgan led the defense with nine tackles, followed by Aaron Davis (8), SteveO Michel (career-high 7) and Terry Jackson (career-high six).
“The goal-line stand really set the tone for us,” Morgan said. “Any time you can have a stop like that – especially with the big hit by Kevin Pierre-Louis – it gets everyone fired up.”
With the win, McElwain became the first CSU coach to win two Rocky Mountain Showdown games in his first three years as a head coach since Bob Davis did so in 1948 and 1949. Additionally, Grayson now has two victories in the rivalry, becoming just CSU’s third starting quarterback to do so.
CSU will now turn its attention to Mountain West foe Boise State, which was picked to win the league’s Mountain Division. The Rams and Broncos will meet in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 8:15 p.m. MT. The game will be televised on ESPN2.