- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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With 8:07 remaining at Washington State, Colorado took possession at its 8-yard line, trailing 31-14. Not only was quarterback Jordan Webb sacked on first down, he also was flagged for intentional grounding. So it was second-and-15 on the Buffaloes' 3.
Nothing -- nothing! -- suggested at that moment that the Buffaloes, widely considered the worst team playing in a major college football conference, would provide anything more than another wan whimper of defeat.
They'd lost their opener to a terrible Colorado State team. They'd lost Game 2 to a Sacramento State, a middling FCS team. They'd been humiliated at Fresno State, 69-14.
Again, zero suggestion of hope.
"It's hard to keep believing," Webb said, "but, honestly, all of us really did."
Webb completed consecutive passes totaling 27 yards to DaVaughn Thornton, who'd been suspended for the first two games. He failed to connect with tight end Nick Kasa. On second-and-10 from the 30, he found Kasa wide open over the middle for a 70-yard touchdown.
Then running back Tony Jones dashed for an 84-yard touchdown. That was followed by a defensive stand after the Cougars returned the ensuing kickoff to the Colorado 23-yard line. And, finally, a 12-play, 70-yard drive was capped by a fourth-down QB draw from the Cougars' 4-yard line for the winning score.
"It opened up like the Red Sea," Webb said.
And from the ashes of a season that seemed headed toward winless ignominy, sprouted hope. At least for one weekend.
The Buffaloes play host to UCLA on Saturday. The 3-1 Bruins are smarting from a home loss to Oregon State that knocked them out of the national rankings. That, coupled with the Buffaloes getting off life support, makes it seem likely the Bruins will take the matchup seriously.
"When they mounted that comeback in the fourth quarter, you could just see their confidence in what they were doing growing," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "They showed a ton of heart. They showed great character. I think that's hard to do coming off three loses. I think that's a real credit to their coaches and their older players."
The question is whether Colorado's fourth-quarter fireworks were merely a flash or an enduring flame, and whether they have the talent to continue trending up. It's entirely possible that they just caught their top competition for last place in the Pac-12 taking a win for granted.
Not surprisingly, that's not the way the Buffaloes see it.
"Our No. 1 goal is to win a bowl game," Webb said. "We have eight more games to win five. That's our goal. I don't think anyone here is looking at it like we can't obtain that goal."
While that seems like a long shot, Webb, a transfer from Kansas, is where a sustained turnaround would start. He and the offense piled up 531 yards against the Cougars with a mixture of big plays and sustained drives. While Webb and his teammates could have been beaten down by all the negativity that surrounded the team for three games and three quarters, their confidence has never flagged, coach Jon Embree said.
"[Webb] never doubted himself; he never doubted his teammates," Embree said. "You could tell how he was practicing"
The Buffs seemed to find their footing in the fourth quarter, and the presence of fiery offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on the sideline instead of the press box -- as he'd been the previous three games -- seemed to help.
Embree said the win at Washington State validated his team's hard work, but now comes the rest of the season. The competition is going to ramp up, not down.
But the win in Pullman at least provides a foundation for hope that the season isn't lost.
"We were super-focused for four quarters, and that's something we hadn't done yet," Webb said. "Now we've just got to build on it."
He then added, "This program is headed in the right direction."
10hSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf