EUGENE, Ore. — The joyful tears in Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre’s eyes summed up what the victory over Oregon meant for the Buffaloes.
“Our goal is to win a Pac-12 championship. I know a lot of people still laugh about it, but that’s what those young men believe and if we can’t believe it than we can never achieve it,” he said.
Colorado (3-1) had not been able to defeat the Ducks since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 until Saturday, when Steven Montez threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-38 victory.
Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted Dakota Prukop’s pass to Darren Carrington in the end zone on Oregon’s final drive to preserve the win.
Afterward MacIntyre hugged his son Jay, a sophomore receiver, and wiped away tears as the team celebrated.
The Ducks were stunned.
“I haven’t been through something like this before. It sucks,” Prukop said. “You’ve just got to eat it, learn from it. Can’t let it happen again. Just move on.”
The Buffaloes had retaken the lead following a controversial 31-yard touchdown from Montez to Bryce Bobo. After review, the officials ruled Bobo had control of the ball in his right hand when his right foot came down in the end zone — but the crowd at Autzen Stadium booed in disagreement.
“I’m never confident on anything that goes to review, and I don’t mean that negatively. You just don’t know,” MacIntyre said. “But the way he caught it and his was foot was in, I thought they’d give it to him. You could see he had possession and he didn’t bobble it.”
The Buffaloes led from the start and went up 33-17 following Montez’s 48-yard TD pass to Devin Ross to open the second half.
But Kani Benoit scored on a 3-yard touchdown to pull Oregon (2-2) within 33-31. Troy Dye’s interception on Colorado’s subsequent possession led to Prukup’s 18-yard go-ahead TD pass to Carrington late in the third quarter.
The Buffaloes led 21-7 against Michigan last weekend but fell behind to lose 45-28. Oregon was coming off a 35-32 loss at Nebraska last weekend.
Both teams were without key playmakers.
Oregon running back Royce Freeman, who left the game against the Huskers after five carries with a leg injury, watched from sidelines although he warmed up in pads with the team. Kani Benoit made his first career start in Freeman’s place.
The Buffaloes didn’t have senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, who left the game at the Big House with an ankle injury after throwing for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
Montez, who also rushed for 135 yards, was the first Colorado quarterback ever to throw for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 in a single game.
“I sensed the momentum change but I knew it wasn’t going to slip away because we are a different Colorado team. We’re mentally tough, we’re mentally strong and we’re confident,” Montez said. “I knew the game wasn’t going to slip out of our hands.”
Colorado: The Buffaloes showed surprising toughness on defense despite missing one of their top defensive players, linebacker Derek McCartney, who tore his right ACL and is out for the season. They also were resilient on offense in the absence of Liufau. Ross finished with seven catches for 153 yards.
Oregon: It was anticipated that the Ducks would come out with zeal following the disappointing loss to the Huskers but they sputtered from the start, allowing Colorado to jump out to an early 22-7 lead in the opening half. The Ducks appeared to gain some momentum when Danny Mattingly ran 29 yards on a fake punt and Oregon went on to score on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Prukop to Carrington but still struggled against the Buffaloes.
ABOUT THOSE TWO-POINT CONVERSIONS: After Colorado took a 10-0 lead early, Taj Griffin scored on a 1-yard run for Oregon. The Ducks looked as though they were lining up for a two-point conversion, drawing strident boos from the crowd at Autzen. But Aidan Schneider ran out to kick the PAT.
Last weekend against Nebraska the Ducks went for the two-point conversion five times, and were successful just once. The tactic was questioned in the aftermath of the loss.
Colorado: After two straight on the road, the Buffaloes return home to host Oregon State. The Beavers (1-2) hold a 5-3 advantage in the all-time series, but Colorado won the last one, 17-13. Oregon State fell 38-24 at home to Boise State earlier Saturday.
Oregon: The Ducks head north for a game against Washington State in Pullman. The Cougars (1-2) have a bye this weekend. While Oregon has a 47-34-6 advantage in the all-time series, Washington State pulled off a 45-38 upset in double overtime last year in Eugene.
“Crazy up and down game but we ended up pulling it out. That’s definitely the most crazy atmosphere I’ve ever been in. I think that surpasses the Big House in my opinion. That’s the most fun I’ve had in football in a while,” Montez said.