5th and Goal. What to do?

The infamous “Fifth Down game” of 1990 is forever in the annals of Missouri Tiger and Colorado Buffalo history.

A good Colorado team, ranked No. 12 in the country, was going into Missouri for just another Big 8 conference game against a relatively bad Missouri team. Little did everyone know that the controversy that would ensue would only grow as the season went on. Down 31-27 with 31 seconds to play, the Buffaloes had the ball first and goal on the Missouri three. Quarterback Charles Johnson spiked the ball to stop the clock. Second down: Running back Eric Bieniemy, who ran for 217 yards on the day, barreled down to the one. Colorado called time out with 18 seconds to go. On third down, Bieniemy was stuffed. The officials stopped the clock with eight seconds to go saying Missouri wasnt unpiling fast enough. Fourth down: Johnson spiked the ball again to stop the clock. Why? The down marker said third down as they failed to flip it after second down. Soooooo.Fifth down: With two seconds to play Johnson forced it in from the one, getting in by just the nose of the ball, if at all, for the winning touchdown. The officials didnt signal for a touchdown and the fans rushed the field even tearing down one of the goalposts. When an official signaled touchdown, a riot erupted on the field. After Missouri tried to change the outcome, they were informed that, under NCAA rules, it couldnt.

It’s not the first time a team had gone for it on 5th down:

Cornell is undefeated and atop the national rankings. Dartmouth is 3-4 but leads 3-0 in the last minute when Referee Red Friesell loses track of downs and awards Cornell an erroneous extra play. The Big Red scores. The “Fifth Down” error is confirmed on film. The next day Cornell concedes its 7-3 victory, the only time a college game’s result has been decided off the field. After the season, Blaik departs to coach at Army.

So, should CU officials have conceded the Mizzou game back in 1990?

Tiger fans remain bitter about the 5th Down loss, with good reason. That game was played on the also-infamous Omni Turf, a synthetic turf that actually became more playable when it was wet. When it was dry, like it was on October 6th, 1990, it was very slippery and fans “credited” the turf with numerous tackles when there was no-one within 5 yards of the man with the ball. Buff coach Bill McCartney (and a former Tiger football player – with Buff ex-coach Gary Barnett as one of his assistants) blamed the turf and the fact that they brought the wrong shoes. Tiger fans have never forgiven McCartney.

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Author: Phil Miller

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