BOULDER, Colo. (AP) California coach Justin Wilcox wasn’t the only one cringing at Colorado junior safety Nick Fisher’s 100-yard return for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the Buffaloes’ 44-28 win over the Golden Bears.
Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre was, too.
When he saw Fisher intercept Ross Bowers’ pass 9 yards deep in the north end zone, ”I was like, Nick’s going to take a knee right?” MacIntyre said. ”And then he took off running.”
Fisher hauled in his first career interception, sidestepped two Bears at the goal line and darted down California’s dejected sideline, avoiding another tackler at the Bears 30 before breaking free.
”I didn’t want to get caught or anything because that would have made it worse,” Fisher said. ”Once I brought it out I said aw shoot, I can’t go back in. When I was at the 50, I was like well at least if I score maybe Mac won’t be so upset.”
He heard about it as soon as he huffed and puffed back to the sideline.
”Almost every coach said, `Yeah, good play. But you give them the ball right back. Learn from this. Next time just take a knee right there,” Fisher said.
The 100-yard pick-6 – the NCAA doesn’t count end zone yardage like the NFL does – was the fourth in school history and gave Colorado a 44-21 lead with 2:34 remaining.
”So, it was a great play, No. 1,” MacIntyre said. ”He caught the ball in the end zone, which is big. But I wish he would have taken a knee maybe down the field a little bit. We could have just run the clock out. That gave them an opportunity to have a chance to beat us.”
However slim, admittedly.
But, ”he goes down in the record book,” MacIntyre conceded. ”So, 20 years from now, he’ll see me and say, `I’m still in the record book, Coach.”
Steven Montez bounced back from a benching a week earlier and threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns for the Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) and Phillip Lindsay rushed for 161 yards on the day Colorado retired the jersey of the late Rashaan Salaam, the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner.
Montez, who completed 20 of 26 passes, also ran for a score as the Buffaloes kept alive their hopes of reaching back-to-back bowls for the first time in more than a decade.
The Golden Bears (4-5, 1-5) saw their postseason hopes fade despite a three-TD day by Bowers, who was 29-of-52 for 359 yards but regretted most his pass that Fisher returned.
”My receiver and I were just on different pages and it was just unfortunate,” Bowers said.
Montez was briefly knocked from the game after a late helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk on Colorado’s first drive of the second half. Sam Noyer, who replaced Montez for the second half of the Buffs’ 28-0 loss at Washington State last week, came in and fumbled away the snap on fourth-and-inches from midfield.
Montez’s mother came out of the stands when he went to the sideline.
”She just told me if you’re healthy enough, get back out there and go kick some butt and go make us proud,” recounted Montez, who did just that.
Montez returned on Colorado’s next drive and later threw a 23-yard pass to Jay MacIntyre to make it 34-14.
Montez threw for 242 yards and a pair of TDs in the first half as Colorado raced to a 27-14 halftime lead. He connected with Devin Ross from 22 yards out and with Shay Fields from 65 yards.
His 65-yarder capped a 96-yard drive for a 21-7 lead and it included a 21-yard dart to Ross on third-and-11 from his own 3.
”It’s unacceptable to play like that,” Wilcox said. ”All due credit to Colorado.”
California converted just 1 of 5 third downs before going on a 17-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in which the Golden Bears converted four third downs in five chances and followed their one failure with a fourth-down conversion.
The payoff came on Bowers’ 27-yard touchdown toss to Kanawai Noa into double coverage on third-and-14. That got the Golden Bears to within 10 points.
Noa also caught a 15-yard TD pass from fellow receiver Vic Wharton III.
REMEMBERING RASHAAN : The Buffs retired Salaam’s No. 19 jersey between the first and second quarters. The 1994 Heisman Trophy winner took his life in 2016 at a park two miles from the stadium where he carved his name into the school’s record books as one of the greatest players in the program’s history.
California: The Golden Bears fell flat in their first visit to Boulder since 2013, which began a stretch in which they’ll play three of four games on the road.
Colorado: The Buffaloes set themselves up nicely for the stretch run with the confidence-building win. They get three chances for a sixth win that would send them to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2004-05.
California: The Golden Bears host Oregon State in their final home game.
Colorado: The Buffaloes travel to Arizona State in search of their bowl-clinching sixth win.
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