BOULDER — Colorado played one of its better overall games of the season Saturday but a late Arizona drive produced the game-winning field goal in the final seconds and the Buffaloes fell 34-31 in their home finale.

Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders’ Buffs dropped their fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven to fall to 4-6 overall and 1-6 in Pac-12 play. Arizona improved to 7-3, 5-2.

Colorado led for much of the game but missed a 44-yard field goal try with just under five minutes to play and the score tied at 31-31.

Arizona then took possession and drove deep into Colorado territory. The Buffs were forced to use their final two timeouts and the Wildcats put themselves in position for the 24-yard game winner as time expired. The winning kick provided the only time Arizona held the lead all afternoon.

After two games in which the Buffs failed to surpass the 20-point mark, CU’s offense regained its footing. The Buffs finished with 352 total yards as Shedeur Sanders threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns and Colorado ran for 90 yards, led by 42 from Sanders. Xavier Weaver led CU in receiving with five catches for 84 yards.

Still, CU struggled in the second half. After outplaying the Wildcats for the first 30 minutes — the Buffs led 24-17 at intermission — CU managed just 102 yards offense and one touchdown in five possessions after the break while Arizona scored a pair of touchdowns and the game-winning field goal.

The Buffs also had an excellent day from their punt and punt return teams, as Mark Vassett kicked six times for a 45.8-yard average, with three downed inside the 20-yard line. Colorado had 73 yards in punt returns from Weaver that helped set up three CU touchdowns.

Defensively, Colorado had some solid moments but the Buffs did yield  421 yards offense, including 207 on the ground.

Colorado’s last five losses have been by a total of 28 points — less than six per game — with four of those coming by just one score.

“I’m apologizing to the fan base,” Coach Prime said after the game. “They’ve been supporting the heck out of us and they’ve been showing up and showing out. Another sellout crowd that ended in disappointment. We’re so close, is what I told the team, but yet so far. We just simply truly don’t know how to win yet. It’s not for lack of effort, not for lack of coaching … We just can’t get over that hump. Another game, we’re right there. … It seemed like we were the better team and we just couldn’t get it done.”

HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs put together one of their better halves of the season in terms of getting contributions from all three phases to start the game.

CU scored first, getting a good punt return to the Arizona 36-yard line after the Buffs defense held on the Wildcats’ first possession. Sanders hit Javon Antonio for a 17-yard gain to open the drive before taking it in himself from 16 yards out. Alejandro Mata’s PAT gave Colorado a 7-0 lead with 11:14 left in the first quarter.

Arizona quickly answered, going 75 yards in six plays for a score. Noah Fifita threw a 31-yard completion to former Buff Montana Lemonious-Craig on the drive before DJ Williams recorded an 11-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

Colorado regained the lead late in the first quarter after the two teams traded punts, with CU again taking advantage of solid field position. The Buffs went 48 yards in eight plays, converting two third downs in the process. Sanders threw 10 yards to Travis Hunter on third-and-5, then scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-7 to keep the march alive.

Sanders then connected with Jimmy Horn Jr. for a 20-yard TD and Mata’s extra point sent Colorado into the second quarter with a 14-7 lead.

Arizona managed to tie the game again after punts from both teams. The Wildcats went 72 yards in five plays and a penalty on Colorado inside the Arizona 10 kept the drive alive after a third down incompletion. Fifita threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Cowing and the PAT tied the game at 14-14.

Colorado then began to produce some separation. CU took the ensuing kick and marched 75 yards in 10 plays, aided by a pair of Arizona penalties. Sanders completed passes of 17 yards to Horn and 26 yards to Xavier Weaver to set up a 1-yard Sy’veon Wilkerson touchdown run and 21-14 lead.

Arizona managed to drive for a 52-yard field goal with just 1:32 left in the half, but that was enough time for Colorado to drive 54 yards in seven plays for a 39-yard Mata field goal. Sanders had a 47-yard completion to Hunter to set up the kick and Colorado took a 24-17 lead into the break.

CU finished with 250 yards offense in the first half — more than the Buffs had in the entire game in last week’s loss to Oregon State. Sanders threw for 189 yards and a score before intermission and was also CU’s leading rusher with 35 yards on eight carries.

Colorado’s defense, meanwhile, limited Arizona’s Fifita to 101 yards in the air on 8-for-18 passing.

Arizona didn’t take long to tie the game again, taking the opening kick in the third quarter and driving 75 yards to the end zone. Jonah Coleman ran 54 yards on third-and-1 and the Wildcats scored two plays later to tie the game at 24-24.

The Buffs were forced to punt on their next possession but Mark Vassett buried the ‘Cats at their own 2-yard line. Colorado’s defense then held and Xavier Weaver had a 22-yard return to give CU the ball at the Arizona 35.

Colorado then converted a fourth-and-7 on the possession when Sanders scrambled for an 11-yard gain to the Arizona 21. Four plays later, Sanders connected with tight end Michael Harrison for a 7-yard touchdown — Harrison’s fifth of the year — and the PAT put the Buffs back on top, 31-24.

But Arizona answered again with another 75-yard scoring drive. Williams capped the march with a 7-yard run, his second touchdown of the day, and the PAT knotted the game again at 31-31.

That led to a pair of punts from both teams before Mata missed a 44-yard field goal try wide right with 4:57 remaining and Arizona took possession at its own 25.

The Wildcats then methodically drove deep into Colorado territory, getting back-to-back runs of 21 and 24 yards from Coleman while burning time off the clock. Arizona produced a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 1:04 remaining and the Buffs were forced to use their last timeouts. The Wildcats then used three plays to run the clock down and put themselves in position for the game-winning field goal.

“We still haven’t shown up together in one game yet,” Coach Prime said. “What I mean by that is the offense played their butts off, the defense here butts off and special teams played their butts off. We still haven’t done it as of yet. But it was close … We scored 31 points. That should be enough to win the football game.”

TURNING POINT: The Buffs still seemed to be in control heading down the stretch, even though the Wildcats had tied the game at 31-31 early in the fourth quarter. Colorado drove to the Arizona 28-yard line after a UA punt but the drive stalled and Mata’s 44-yard field goal try sailed wide right. That gave the ball to Arizona and the Wildcats drove into position for the game winner in the final seconds.

KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs gave up 207 yards on the ground, including rushes of 21 and 24 yards on the game-winning drive … CU was just 5-for-13 on third down conversion tries, including 1-for-6 in the second half … Colorado did not force a turnover after collecting six takeaways in the previous two games.

WHAT IT MEANS: Colorado must now win its final two games to become bowl eligible.

UP NEXT:  The Buffs hit the road for their last two games of the season, beginning with next Friday’s 8:30 p.m. (MT) game at Washington State (FS1). They then wrap up the regular season Nov. 25 at Utah.


Story by Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor for Content courtesy of the University of Colorado at Boulder.