The fifth-year senior quarterback made his first start Sunday night and led Colorado State to a 23-17 upset of Colorado, the Rams’ first win in Boulder since 1986.
Stucker barely beat out Jon Eastman last week for the starting job, a year after losing out to Billy Farris.
“One thing you’ve got to look at it, 50 years down the road, do you think you could’ve stuck it out, regardless if you get the start or not? It’s something I didn’t want to have – regret,” Stucker said.
“I’m very happy that I was able to have that patience to stick it out.”
So are the Rams and their fans, who stormed the field to celebrate the second upset for the Mountain West Conference over a Big 12 team in 24 hours, coming on the heels of BYU’s stunning 14-13 victory over third-ranked Oklahoma.
Stucker threw a 13-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to new running back John Mosure, who also had a 1-yard TD run as the Rams (1-0) took the Folsom Field crowd out early by jumping out to a 17-0 lead.
That helped calm down Stucker, whom Rams coach Steve Fairchild said had a poor week of practice.
“I wasn’t sandbagging anybody. First-year quarterback, there’s just some growing pains,” Fairchild said. “We’re not out of the woods yet with him. I think he’s a talented young man. Hopefully he’ll keep getting better. … I’ll certainly pat him on the back and give him his due. That’s not easy, coming into this place and trying to win a game like that.”
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins – who’s entering a do-or-die fourth season at Boulder – kept his starter a secret until just before kickoff when his son, junior Cody Hawkins, got the nod over Tyler Hansen.
That decision was met with derision by the Buffaloes’ student section as Colorado’s offense struggled behind Hawkins, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 46 yards in a first half that ended with Colorado (0-1) trailing 20-3.
Dan Hawkins said he never considered pulling his son, blaming the lack of cohesion on penalties and mental mistakes: “When you’re three plays and out it’s hard for anyone to get rhythm.”
The Buffaloes looked like that had made the proper adjustments at halftime when they took the opening kickoff and needed just four plays to pull to 20-10 on Brian Lockridge’s 9-yard touchdown run.
Their momentum stalled, however, when wide receiver Scotty McKnight fumbled inside the Rams 20 on a hard hit by free safety Elijah-Blu Smith and linebacker Alex Williams recovered.
On their next drive, the Buffs were stuffed on fourth-and-1 from their own 44. Demetrius Sumler was stopped well short of the first-down marker, snapping a string of a dozen consecutive fourth-down conversions by the Buffaloes going back to last season.
After the Rams decided not to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Ben DeLine kicked an 18-yard field goal that gave Colorado State a 23-10 lead with just under nine minutes left.
That decision loomed large when Hawkins threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to McKnight with 1:57 remaining to pull the Buffs to 23-17. Rams safety Klint Kubiak fumbled the onside kick but teammate Dion Morton smothered it.
Leonard Mason (23 rushes for 107 yards) then reeled off a 44-yard run to the Buffs 6 and the Rams took a knee three times to end the game before their fans stormed the field.
“There is not a better feeling I’ve ever had playing the game of football,” said Kubiak, whose father, Houston Texas coach Gary Kubiak, was in the middle of the mosh pit of celebration.
The Buffaloes, whose stated goal of 10 wins has already taken a blow, trudged off the field as the Rams and their fans went wild.
“It’s real tough, especially when you see the fans jumping on your emblem in the middle of the field,” Lockridge said.
Stucker finished 10 of 17 for 208 yards, a TD and two interceptions. Hawkins was 24 of 40 for 222 yards, a TD and an interception.
A big issue for Colorado was the loss of center Mike Iltis to a knee injury in the first quarter. He was replaced by Keenan Stevens but the Buffs’ offense remained out of sync and the run game stuck in neutral.
The Buffs don’t have a lot of time to fix things – they play at Toledo on Friday night.
Cody Hawkins sees that as a good thing, though.
“Luckily for us we have a really short week so we get to go back on the field and try and flush this one out of our system,” he said.