Photo courtesy of Colorado athletics
The 1990 college football season was one of the crazier ones ever.
Five different teams held the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll throughout the course of the season. In the Coaches Poll, six different teams held that distinction.
The 1990 season began with a top-10 match-up for the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim. On Aug. 26, 1990, No. 5 Colorado was unable to hold a 2-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter against eighth-ranked Tennessee. The Volunteers scored two touchdowns over the final 5:36 to force a 31-31 tie.
Setting the Stage
Both teams were coming off 11-1 seasons and top-10 finishes as they made their way to Anaheim. Colorado had finished the regular season perfect in 1989 before falling to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. After finishing in a 3-way tie for the SEC title, Tennessee capped the year with a 31-27 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Colorado was known for its dynamic backfield on offense that featured Darian Hagan and versatile Mike Pritchard. Defensively, linebacker Alfred Williams was the name to know.
For Tennessee, the wide receiver tandem of Carl Pickens and Alvin Harper was the best in the SEC. Only four of Tennessee’s 12 opponents in 1989 had managed to score more than 14 points against the Volunteers.
The first half featured a touchdown and a field goal from each team. In the second half, Tennessee had no answer for Pritchard.
Pritchard’s 55-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter put Colorado back in front. With less than 10 minutes to play in the game, Dave McCloughan returned a punt 55 yards for a score to double the Colorado lead to 24-10.
It took Tennessee just 41 seconds to respond on a 24-yard touchdown strike from Kelly to Harper, but Pritchard’s 78-yard scamper on an option pitch more than midway through the final period extended the Colorado lead back to 14 at 31-17. Tennessee however, wouldn’t go away.
The Volunteers drew back to within a touchdown with less than six minutes to play when Kelly found Pickens on a 14-yard scoring strike. With 2:25 to play, Tennessee running back Chuck Webb’s second touchdown run of the day capped a 74-yard drive. Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors elected to tie the game with an extra point rather than try a 2-point conversion in a contest that saw the teams combine for 35 fourth-quarter points.
Tennessee would get the ball back with less than a minute to play and marched to the Colorado 41-yard-line. Facing 4th-and-2 with seven seconds left, Webb carried for 25 yards, but was forced out of bounds as time expired.
Pritchard rushed for 217 yards for a Colorado team that put up 368 yards rushing. Webb rushed for 131 yards and the two touchdowns for the Volunteers.
In the passing game, Hagan and Kelly were each intercepted three times. Kelly passed for 368 yards while Pickens and Harper each eclipsed the 100-yard mark receiving.
Defensively, safety Tim James picked off Kelly twice. Deon Figures and Greg Bierkert each recorded 13 tackles for the Buffaloes. Defensive lineman Joel Steed tallied 5.5 tackles for loss for Colorado.
Ernest Fields led Tennessee with 15 tackles and a fumble recovery. Shon Walker had 11 tackles, including two for loss.
The tie served as a missed opportunity for Colorado, but it wouldn’t be too detrimental in the long run. After rallying past Stanford on a Thursday night, the Buffaloes fell to Illinois on Sept. 15, but bounced back to win their final 10 games and earn a share of the national championship.
Tennessee would go on to win its next three games before a rough 5-game stretch. Tennessee tied Auburn 26-26 before suffering home losses to Alabama and Notre Dame by a combined eight points.
The Volunteers closed the season on a 4-game winning streak and capped a second straight top-10 finish with a thrilling 23-22 win over Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. The season-opening tie served as the first for Colorado since playing Oklahoma State to a 25-25 draw in 1982. It happened on this day three decades ago.