Colorado gives up 24 straight points as Washington cruises Buffs strug­gle to move ball; Li­u­fau picked off three times

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Kos­mider

Washington de­nies the Colorado foot­ball team’s dream of a Pac-12 cham­pi­onship, pound­ing the Buf­faloes in Santa Clara, Calif. Se­nior quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau was picked off three times. Colorado will take a 10-3 record into its bowl game.

SANTA CLARA, CALIF.» Sefo Li­u­fau jogged up and down the side­line. He slowly churned his legs on the sta­tion­ary bike at the end of the bench. He re­treated to the locker room, try­ing to stay warm and give him­self one more chance to leave a legacy.

Colorado’s se­nior quar­ter­back had been knocked out of the game on the Buf­faloes’ first drive of the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game against Washington on Fri­day night at Levi’s Sta­dium with an ap­par­ent in­jury to his right leg. His first at­tempt to rise from a crush­ing sack on CU’s first drive ended with him back on his knees, crum­pled in pain.

Li­u­fau fi­nally walked off the field and then, an hour later, mus­tered the grit to re­turn to the field to start the third quar­ter, his Buf­faloes trail­ing by a touch­down and in need of a spark.

Then the magic ran out. “The Rise” hit a wall.

Li­u­fau’s pick-six in­ter­cep­tion thrown into the hands of Tay­lor Rapp on the first play of the third quar­ter opened the floodgates for Washington as the Huskies ran past CU 41-10 to claim the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship.

The No. 4 Huskies now await what they be­lieve will be a berth in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off and a matchup with No. 1 Alabama.

The Buffs will just wait. Maybe they will still slide into the Rose Bowl as the Pac-12 South Di­vi­sion cham­pi­ons, but they may just as eas­ily fall be­hind USC in the rank­ings and drop into an Alamo Bowl slot.

“We’ve got a good team,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said of his play­ers. “They play hard and con­tin­u­ally get bet­ter ev­ery game. We’re just proud of them.”

The Buffs may have some of their hurt eased with the news of a fa­vor­able post­sea­son des­ti­na­tion Sun­day morn­ing, but that wait will be coated in pain af­ter CU

watched its ul­ti­mate goal of win­ning a Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game slip away in its worst per­for­mance of the sea­son.

“We’re ob­vi­ously pretty up­set. We didn’t put out a very good per­for­mance tonight,” said Li­u­fau, who was in­ter­cepted three times. “I didn’t do a good job of pre­par­ing us and be­ing able to get us qual­ity drives. We re­ally left our de­fense and ev­ery­body else out to dry tonight . ... We’re go­ing to bounce back. We’ve al­ways been able to over­came ad­ver­sity. It just cuts a lit­tle deeper this time.”

The Buffs were still star­ing their dream in the face when the third quar­ter be­gan. Washington had built a 14-7 lead be­hind 148 firsthalf rush­ing yards, 12 more than CU’s av­er­age yield per game this sea­son. But backup quar­ter­back Steven Mon­tez led the Buffs on a game-ty­ing scor­ing drive in re­lief, and the Buffs’ de­fense kept vic­tory within reach.

Then Li­u­fau dropped back to pass on his third play back in the third quar­ter and spotted Jay MacIn­tyre over the mid­dle. The pass sailed high. As MacIn­tyre leaped and con­torted his body, the ball bounced off his fin­gers and into the hands of Rapp, the Pac12’s de­fen­sive fresh­man of the year. Rapp coasted 35 yards into the end zone for a 21-7 lead.

Rapp added to Li­u­fau’s night­mare on CU’s next drive, step­ping in front of an­other pass in­tended for MacIn­tyre and re­turn­ing the ball deep into CU ter­ri­tory. The Huskies set­tled for a field goal, but the 24-7 lead it pro­duced may as well have been a 100-point edge.

The Buffs were out of juice. The pages were be­ing quickly ripped out of their sto­ry­book.

When the Huskies’ star quar­ter- back, Jake Brown­ing, scram­bled away from a sure sack mid­way through the third quar­ter and found elec­tric wide re­ceiver John Ross for a 19-yard touch­down af­ter a one-handed grab, the foghorn that Washington sounds when it scores may as well have been a call to the Crim­son Tide.

Asked whether Washington should be in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off, Petersen said: “No doubt about that.”

CU’s of­fense sim­ply wasn’t able to keep up with Washington’s.

Mon­tez had gone 5-of-12 for 60 yards in the first half in re­lief. Li­u­fau couldn’t find any rhythm, and with an in­jured leg wasn’t called on to run. He threw his third in­ter­cep­tion early in the fourth quar­ter from his end zone, putting a de­mor­al­iz­ing stamp on his worst game of the sea­son.

Li­u­fau said his in­jury wasn’t a fac­tor in the Buffs’ per­for­mance.

“We just didn’t ex­e­cute. That’s the frus­trat­ing part,” he said. “We had re­ally good game plan go­ing in. We just didn’t ex­e­cute.”

Said CU’s Tedric Thomp­son: “Ev­ery week it’s our goal to stop the run game. We didn’t do that.”

Even when CU had a rare bounce fall its way, the Buffs couldn’t cap­i­tal­ize. Trail­ing 31-7 late in the third quar­ter, An­thony Jul­misse re­turned the ball past mid­field. Washington knocked the ball loose from the fresh­man re­turner, but it bounced straight into the hands of Phillip Lind­say, who re­turned it all the way to the Washington 2-yard line.

The Buffs couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone, left to set­tle for a field goal that put but a tiny dent in their mas­sive deficit.

There will still be a big bowl game left for the Buffs. In sev­eral weeks will come the chance to punc­tu­ate what has been a re­mark­able turn­around sea­son.

But as the sec­onds clicked off the score­board late Fri­day night, the cham­pi­onship dreams born months ago tick­ing away, all that was left was hurt.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

CU wide re­ceivers Shay Fields, left, and Devin Ross sit de­ject­edly on the bench late in the fourth quar­ter dur­ing the Buffs’ loss in the Pac-12 ti­tle game.

Colorado se­nior quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau suf­fered an an­kle in­jury dur­ing the first quar­ter of the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game Fri­day night against Washington at Levi’s Sta­dium in Santa Clara, Calif. The Buf­faloes will take a 10-3 record into their sea­son-end­ing bowl game.

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