LINCOLN, Neb. – Steven Montez couldn’t bear to watch.
Colorado’s quarterback had just connected with Laviska Shenault Jr. for the go-ahead touchdown, and now Nebraska backup Andrew Bunch had the Cornhuskers at the CU 20 in the final minute.
“I knew if the crowd went crazy, they probably scored,” Montez said. “I knew our defense was going to do it right. They were going to play good regardless. But I didn’t want to watch that last play.”
Montez might have been the only person in Memorial Stadium who missed seeing Bunch’s last pass sail over JD Spielman in the back corner of the end zone, allowing the Buffaloes to win 33-28 on Saturday and spoil Scott Frost’s debut as the Huskers’ coach.
There was no lack of drama in the teams’ first meeting since 2010, the last season in the Big 12 for both. Though they went their separate ways after some 60 years as conference mates — the Huskers to the Big Ten and the Buffs to the Pac-12 — this game had the look and feel of some of the classics from yesteryear.
“For three quarters I was having about as much fun as I ever had in my life, doing it back home,” said Frost, who returned to his home state to take over the program he quarterbacked to a share of the 1997 national title. “We’ve got to learn lessons to be able to win games like that. When you’re trying to become a good team, you don’t find ways to lose games, especially close ones. You find ways to win them.”
Nebraska (0-1) lost fumbles on its first two possessions and spotted the Buffs a 14-0 lead. Adrian Martinez, the first Nebraska true freshman to start an opener at quarterback, scored the second of his two touchdowns to put the Huskers up 21-14 late in the first half. His 57-yard pass to Spielman made it 28-20 in the third.
CU (2-0) wrested momentum at that point. Montez’s 8-yard pass to Jay MacIntyre made it a one-point game, and the Buffs missed two chances to take the lead when James Stefanou was wide right and left with two field-goal tries. But Nebraska couldn’t put the Buffs away, failing to convert a fourth-and-1 and Martinez throwing an interception before Montez got his last chance.
“After (Stefanou) missed the second one,” coach Mike MacIntyre said, “our defensive guys were in the huddle saying, ‘We’re going to stop them.’ The offensive guys were saying, ‘We’re going to get the ball and go down and score.’ I didn’t have to say a word.”
Colorado (2-0) got the ball for the last time with 2:23 left after Martinez went out of the game because of an injury.
Montez moved the Buffaloes from their 23 to the Nebraska 41 before Ben Stille sacked him to set up a third-and-19 that became third and 24 after a false start. Montez overthrew Jay MacIntyre over the middle, but safety Antonio Reed was called for a personal foul for hitting the defenseless receiver.
“I got drilled,” Jay MacIntyre said. “I kind of made eye contact before he hit me. We got a 15-yarder, so I’m glad he hit me.”
Given new life, Montez hit Shenault along the right sideline for 40 yards and the go-ahead score with 1:06 to play.
The Huskers (0-1) were playing their opener a week late. Last week’s game against Akron was cancelled right after the opening kickoff because of inclement weather.
“I will never make an excuse, but having a game last week certainly probably would have helped the way we came out and played,” Frost said. “It is what it is. Those are the cards dealt to us.”
Montez was 33 of 50 for 351 yards and three touchdowns, with Shenault catching 10 balls for 177 yards.
“Beating Nebraska is great, but it doesn’t taste nearly as good as a Pac-12 championship,” Montez said.
THE TAKEAWAYColorado: Montez continues to stamp himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the Pac-12, making play after play on a day when the running game couldn’t gain traction.
Nebraska: Martinez had a splendid debut before getting hurt, and the defense looks much better than the unit that ranked among the worst in the nation last year. The Huskers had seven sacks after having only 14 last season.
UP NEXTColorado plays at home against FCS opponent New Hampshire.
Nebraska hosts Troy, which visits Lincoln for the fifth time in 18 years.