Football Writers Association of America 2004 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE

FIRST PLACE: GAME (IMMEDIATE DEADLINE)
Adam Thompson, Denver Post

WACO, Texas The goalposts at Floyd Casey Stadium rank among the least endangered in college football.

At least they did before Saturday, when a Baylor team that had gone 364 days since its last lead in a Big 12 game captured its fifth league victory in the conference's eight-year history.

To have that 42-30 win come against Colorado, the two-time defending North Division champion, made falling goalposts even more of a foregone conclusion. There may have been only 23,147 fans in the stands, but there were more than enough ecstatic students to bring aluminum to grass.

Buffaloes linebacker Akarika Dawn may be just a sophomore, but having grown up in Texas, he knows enough about the Bears' poor recent history to put this conference play-opening loss, which dropped CU to 2-3, in perspective.

"It's a surprise Baylor scored on us, basically. Baylor. That's not supposed to happen," he said. "They're turning that program around. ... They took it to us."

Adam Thompson
Denver Post
Age: 29
College: Graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in English.
Background: Thompson has been with the Post for five years. Previously he worked for the Ames (Iowa) Tribune for two years. He is entering his second season as the Nuggets beat writer after leaving the Colorado beat last December. He has been honored in the FWAA writing contest the last three years, though this is his first first-place award. He was the last man off the bench on the worst high school basketball team in New York City in 1993.

The Buffs blew three leads, including a 23-14 third-quarter edge, to lose a game that most interviewed admitted stings more than blowouts to Washington State and Florida State did. But like those two losses, this one happened because of a second-half collapse.

"We just didn't get in sync," CU coach Gary Barnett said of the second half. "I don't know what sync means anymore right now."

From the other locker room, new Bears coach Guy Morriss celebrated his first conference win in his first try by saying: "It just came down to a game of willpower today. Our kids just refused to collapse and crater."

Baylor (3-2) grew more bold with each CU mistake. The Bears seized control with 7 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third quarter, when safety Derrick Cash sacked quarterback Erik Greenberg, causing a fumble that linebacker Jamaal Harper returned for a 7-yard touchdown. The hosts went up 28-23 and had the lead for good.

A fumbled snap on CU's next drive led to a 3-yard rushing touchdown the Bears' third trip to the end zone in 3:15 for Rashad Armstrong. The senior pounded the Buffs for 166 yards and two scores on 37 carries.

"We couldn't tackle him," Barnett said. "We're just getting outmanned up front. It's been that way for three weeks now. I don't know that there's any answers for us there, either."

Baylor's rush defense entered the game ranked 94th in the nation against an unremarkable schedule. But it became the latest unit to silence a recently proud CU running game that made four position changes on the offensive line during a bye week.

"Obviously, I don't think we did a very good job of that," tailback Brian Calhoun said of his team's ground game. "Toward the end, we didn't really go toward the run. But we had an opportunity, and we really didn't make the best of it."

The Buffs netted just 57 yards on the ground and could not get a single yard at the point they most needed one.

Down 35-30 to start the fourth quarter, CU's struggling defense handed the offense a seemingly sure thing when Dawn sacked quarterback Aaron Karas and end Gabe Nyenhuis recovered Karas' fumble on Baylor's 9-yard line.

On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Bears defenders Justin Crooks and Maurice Lane ate up Calhoun at the 3 to preserve the lead. Now fully confident, the Bears made only simple running calls the way the Buffs often did at their best in 2001 and 2002 on a 97-yard, eight-play drive capped by Armstrong's 55-yard touchdown to put his team up 42-30.

Greenberg threw his only interception, to defensive back James Todd, on the next drive, which finished Greenberg's day. But he had a strong game before that, completing 16-of-29 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns.

Greenberg's right hand had been smashed between his helmet and a Baylor defender's the play before. Joel Klatt tried to revive the team without his shoulder completely healed, but threw his first career interception instead, the Buffs' fourth turnover of the day.

For all the pain Baylor football has endured in recent years, Saturday's game surely served as a shot of optimism. Todd put it succinctly by saying, "We needed this."

The Buffs are in a very different place now, having lost what was probably the easiest game on their schedule. Both teams' showings the rest of the season will tell if this game ranks among CU's all-time embarrassments, along with its consecutive losses to Drake in 1979 and 1980.

"It just seemed like we were flat out there," defensive tackle Brandon Dabdoub said. "I don't know what the problem is with that. We need to hurry up and correct it real quick."

Comment from the judge, Gene Duffey: Great lead, which succinctly tells you how little recent football tradition Baylor possesses and how embarrassing it was to get beaten by the Bears. Good quote showing how lightly the Colorado playes took Baylor. Good use of facts, pointing out that Baylor ranked No. 94 in defense against a weak schedule. There was an easy to read description of how the upset occurred.

Second place: Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN The Magazine
Third place: Olin Buchanan, Austin American-Statesman
Honorable mention: Bob Biertempfel, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; Joseph Person, The State; Ted Miller, Seattle Post-Intelligencer