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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / 1996

Colorado Can't Make Michigan Pay the Penalty This Time

Nonconference: Last-play pass is knocked away, so Wolverines survive, 20-13.

September 15, 1996|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOULDER, Colo. — Two years after brow-beating Michigan with "The Catch," Colorado played a memorable game it may recall as "The Penalty."

The fifth-ranked Buffaloes committed 14 penalties Saturday, including a fourth-quarter motion call that nullified the possible game-tying touchdown, all but spoon-feeding No. 11 Michigan a 20-13 victory before a crowd of 53,788 at Folsom Field.

The Wolverines, though, apparently not satisfied with knocking off a top-five team on the road and announcing their return as a national power, instead tried to revisit the most open wound in school history, Kordell Stewart's last-second, 64-yard Hail Mary pass to Michael Westbrook in 1994 that gave Colorado a 27-26 victory in Ann Arbor.

Michigan has practiced against the Hail Mary in every practice in the two seasons since. When Wolverine safety Marcus Ray awoke Saturday morning to the umpteenth ESPN "SportsCenter" replay of "The Catch," he wanted to toss a boulder through his television.

"That was enough to stir the blood," he said. "I was angry. I said there was no way we lose that game again."

Oh, really.

With the game winding down and Colorado out of timeouts, Michigan needed only to play it smart and run out the clock.

So what, then, was quarterback Scott Dreisbach thinking?

Instead of taking a fourth-down snap at his 39 and running around in the backfield until the clock expired, Dreisbach bobbled the snap and then went to a knee with five seconds left, leaving Colorado with one last, improbable, chance to win.

Where might the Wolverines have seen this before?

"It was my mistake," Dreisbach said.

Big mistake.

Koy Detmer rushed the Colorado offense back on the field. Michigan aligned in, yes, the same prevent coverage, "30 Victory," it used two years ago in gut-wrenching defeat.

From the Michigan 37, Detmer let fly a pass to the right corner, where a sea of players converged.

This time, though, Michigan survived. Amazingly, the desperation pass was deflected by safety Chuck Winters, almost exactly as he had done two Septembers ago in Ann Arbor.

This time, Westbrook wasn't there to catch it.

Winters has been so haunted by the play that he would not even comment Saturday.

Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr, the team's defensive coordinator for Stewart-to-Westbrook, couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"I held my breath, just like everyone who loves Michigan did," he said.

Another Hail Mary loss and they might have shut down the Michigan program.

Instead, the Wolverines are 2-0 and talking about the Rose Bowl again, although they do need some work on clock management.

Dreisbach got a tongue-lashing when he came to the sidelines.

"The coaches told me I made a mistake," he said, "I should have let the clock run down, but the coaches can't be too mad at me, because we won."

Carr could only shake his head.

"They were in much better position to hit the pass this year than two years ago," Carr said. "They were closer. When Stewart threw it, I didn't think the good Lord could throw it that far."

Colorado (2-1) didn't deserve a last chance Saturday after displaying unexplainable ineptitude for a team that considered itself a national championship contender.

The Buffaloes, who committed 22 penalties in their first two victories, misfired on all cylinders. After scoring on consecutive possessions before intermission to take a 13-10 halftime lead, Colorado was held scoreless.

After tying the score, 13-13, on Remy Hamilton's 42-yard, third-quarter field goal, Michigan took a 20-13 lead with 59 seconds left in the quarter on Dreisbach's three-yard scoring pass to tight end Jerame Tuman.

Then the Wolverines watched the Buffaloes come apart.

On Colorado's first drive of the fourth quarter, Michigan stuffed a fourth-and-one attempt on its 41.

When Colorado got the ball back at its 14 with 12:03 left, it mounted one strange drive, lowlighted by five penalties, three false starts and two motion.

Yet, the Buffaloes somehow kept possession and the ball moving.

On third and seven from the Michigan 46, Detmer connected with a streaking James Kidd down the right sideline for what appeared a touchdown. But, surprise, the play was called back on a motion call against Brody Heffner, a redshirt freshman in the game only because the team's top two tight ends were out because of injuries.

Colorado marched on, but failed on fourth-and-two at the Michigan nine when Phil Savoy couldn't handle a low Detmer pass.

"I take full responsibility for our offensive mistakes," said Detmer, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. "Penalty-wise, I don't really have an answer."

If Colorado plans to get back in the national title race, it better get one.

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