BOULDER, Colo. -- Matt McChesney was on his knees, overcome, exhausted, eyes wet, as the Folsom Field tumult swirled around him.
Two hands pounded the Colorado defensive tackle on his shoulder pads, and McChesney feared he was about to be trampled by delirious Buffaloes fans spilling out of the stands.
"Get off me!" he shouted, struggling to his feet.
That's when he locked eyes with the man pounding his pads -- fellow team captain Bobby Purify. The two leaders of a team battered all offseason by scandal embraced for a long, delicious, cathartic moment.
"I don't remember what he said, but words aren't what matter," McChesney said. "It's what you do."
Here's what Purify said, after McChesney and the Buffs' defense rose up for a storybook goal-line stand as time ran out to beat Colorado State 27-24: "Thanks for what you did for us."
Then McChesney threaded his way through CU students who had overrun the field. Looking around at the joyful chaos, the sea change in mood surrounding this program was impossible to ignore.
Last spring, when Colorado football players made the walk to the Dal Ward training complex, protesters lined the walkway to call them rapists, thugs and other pleasantries. As the allegations and revelations of sexual assault by players and X-rated recruiting trips piled up, the joy was sucked out of the program. Most of the players did nothing wrong and were accused of nothing, but the taint went program-wide. To some, being a Buffalo was about as honorable as being a crack dealer.
Saturday night, for the first time in a long time, being a Buffalo was something to celebrate. For the guys on the inside, eight months of hell had been purged. Not all questions about the talent of this CU team are answered, but the resiliency of the CU players had been tested and found more than sufficient.
"There's no quit in this team," McChesney said, walking off the field. "THERE IS NO QUIT IN THIS TEAM!"
Coach Gary Barnett said last week that he liked this team because of its spirit -- because of how the players pulled together, how they shrugged off the transfers of several key players, how they had 100 percent attendance for voluntary summer workouts. The spirit was evident on a wild night in Boulder.
Barnett at first tried the great-win-but-just-another-win approach. Then he admitted, "This is probably a little more special, because the way we won it, won it here at home, with everything that's happened."
Colorado's reputation has not been purified, but any toxicity hanging over the team was most certainly Purify-ed Saturday night, in thrilling fashion. The splendid senior running back pounded for 189 yards and a touchdown, kicker Mason Crosby sledge-hammered a 55-yard field goal that could have been good from Vail, and a collapsing defense rallied itself (with the help of panicky Rams strategy) to seal the dramatic deal in the final seconds.
"This win, I can't even put it into words," quarterback Joel Klatt said. "The offseason we had ... I can't even put into words how much it meant to us."
"Shoulder To Shoulder" is the operative motto for Colorado football this fall. But last night, with the clock ticking down and Colorado State driving, it was "Backs To The Wall."
Colorado was clinging to a 27-24 lead but appeared dead. Rams quarterback Justin Holland had spindled the Buffs secondary, driving his team to the CU 12. It looked like a matter of time before State scored and Colorado was left to deal with the fact that it blew a 17-point first-half lead, blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the in-state Little Brother program for the fourth time in six years.
With that as backdrop, Holland fired a pass to receiver David Anderson. Cornerback Gerett Burl stopped him at the 1 -- the first of what turned out to be three game-saving tackles.
With the crowd losing its collective mind, McChesney knew that there would be no attempt at a tying field goal. It was all on the line -- the 1 yard line.
"They've gotta get in to beat us," McChesney said. "And they weren't getting in. And they can take that back to Fort Collins."
First, Holland spiked the ball to stop the clock. Then CSU ordered up a handoff to Marcus Houston -- the former Buffalo whose transfer left bitter feelings all around. True freshman Jordon Dizon stuffed him for no gain, one of the few times Houston was unable to fall forward for yardage.
Then, with the final seconds draining, Holland turned and pitched the ball with just a couple of seconds on the clock to Tristian Walker, who took it around left end -- toward the roaring Colorado State fans in the corner of jammed Folsom Field.
That's where Walker met free safety J.J. Billingsley, then strong safety Dominique Brooks. Down went Walker.
"I heard cheering," Billingsley said. "We were so close to CSU fans that I was like, 'Dang! They scored!' Then I looked up and it was like, 'Yeah!' "
Then it was like, pandemonium. Colorado had bent but not broken -- as a program during a tumultuous offseason, and as a team during a gripping final minute.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.