Inheriting a lengthy losing streak in road games never sat well with Colorado Buffaloes coach Jon Embree.
A program that had produced Heisman Trophy winners and won a national championship had no business dealing with such futility from Embree’s perspective.
When Coleman Petersen missed a 48-yard field goal try with two seconds remaining to seal Colorado’s 17-14 victory over Utah on Friday, Embree and his players could finally feel some relief. The Buffaloes ended a 23-game road losing streak and dashed the Utes’ hopes for playing in the Pac-12 championship game.
”That was our No. 1 goal going into this season, to end that streak,” Embree said. ”This is awesome. I’m happy for those kids. It was four years of not winning on the road. And for them to finally get that (win), they see what it feels like.”
Petersen missed all three attempts after entering the contest leading the Pac-12 in field goals made with 17. With the loss by Utah (7-5, 4-5), UCLA will represent the South in the inaugural Pac-12 title game.
Tyler Hansen passed for 264 yards and rushed for a touchdown and threw for another to lead Colorado (3-10, 2-7), which won outside its home state for the first time since Oct. 27, 2007, when the Buffaloes beat Texas Tech 31-26.
”We kept fighting,” Hansen said. ”We kept going at it. Slowly but surely, things started to turn our way.”
The senior quarterback set the right tone for Colorado. In the first quarter, Hansen went 10 of 15 for 154 yards passing to help the Buffaloes seize an early lead. Embree praised his quarterback’s resilience after struggling away from home previously this season.
”Tyler was great,” Embree said. ”He has struggled on the road. I told him before the game just to relax and go have fun.”
Colorado dominated from the start. At halftime, the Buffs led 10-0 and held a 254-39 total-yardage advantage and 11 1/2-minute edge in time of possession.
Utah running back John White left the game in the third quarter with a left ankle injury. He carried 10 times for 28 yards.
Utah had everything to play for and Colorado nothing, other than pride for 26 seniors who had never won a road game.
The Utes had won four straight. A win Friday, coupled with an Arizona State loss against California on Friday night and UCLA loss against Southern California on Saturday night, and Utah would be win the Pac-12 South.
Colorado had other plans.
The Utes didn’t get their initial first down until the 2:56 mark of the second quarter, eliciting mock cheers from the crowd of 45,026.
The team was booed as it went into the locker room trailing 10-0.
”Everyone did their job,” Hansen said of Colorado’s defense. ”Got pressure on the quarterback and stopped the run. That’s what we wanted to do.”
White had his sights set on Utah’s single-season rushing mark of 1,507 yards. But he had just 28 yards on 10 carries before leaving with 14:05 left in the third quarter with a left ankle injury.
He moved into second place on the single-season list ahead of Dameon Hunter (1,396) and now has 1,405 yards on 290 carries.
Utah right guard Sam Brenner suffered a neck injury on the play after White was hurt. Brenner raised his right arm as he was being loaded into the ambulance on a backboard to cheers from the crowd. Team officials said was taken to a local hospital but had full movement in all extremities.
The last time the Utes had been shut out in the first half was against Cal, a turning point in the season as they won four straight after that embarrassing 34-10 loss.
On the flip side, Friday marked the first time Colorado led on the road all year.
The Buffs took a 7-0 lead with 9:08 left in the first quarter as Hansen capped the 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard leap into the end zone.
Defensive penalties kept alive both Colorado first-half scoring drives.
An unnecessary-roughness penalty against defensive back Mo Lee kept a Buffs drive alive after Rodney Stewart was stopped short on third-and-3.
Hansen completed passes of 19 yards to Richardson and 20 yards to Ryan Deehan after the penalty to move the ball into the red zone.
On a 15-play, 69-yard drive that resulted in Will Oliver’s 23-yard field goal, Utah committed two costly penalties.
A defensive holding call against Ryan Lacy gave the Buffs a first down after an incompletion on third-and-13. And Reggie Topps was whistled for pass interference to move the ball to the Utah 23-yard line.
The Utes offense finally caught fire after the injuries to White and Brenner. Jon Hays completed a 26-yard pass to DeVonte Christopher on third-and-10, and backup running back Tauni Vakapuna carried four straight times for 25 yards, including the 3-yard touchdown run that pulled Utah within 10-7 with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
Hansen brought the Buffs right back, capping an 11-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Evan Harrington with 4:47 left in the third quarter to put Colorado ahead 17-7.
Hays pulled Utah within 17-14 on a 6-yard TD pass to Shawn Asiata with 54 seconds left in the third.
Peterson missed a 26-yard field goal that would have tied the score with 8:55 to play.
His first miss was from 42 yards.
Now the Utes have to find out what bowl game they will be invited to play in.