Colorado had the ball trailing 24-22 with 8 minutes, 30 seconds left when T.J. Hollowell intercepted Buffalo quarterback Trent Klatt and ran the ball to Colorado's 6-yard line. After a Husker touchdown stretched the lead, Pat Ricketts ended a 17-play CU drive by picking off Klatt in the end zone.
Hollowell said he was confident he could intercept Klatt once the play came his way.
"They had been running that same pattern all day," Hollowell said. "They just hadn't thrown it to my side. I took a chance and broke on the ball and was able to pick it off. I was fortunate enough to make something happen and help the team win."
Colorado amassed 333 yards of total offense in the game on 74 plays and had managed to avoid turning the ball over until those final two drives.
Held 30 yards below their average to a paltry 64 rushing yards, the Buffaloes took to the air to the tune of 269 yards. Klatt went 26 of 44 through the air for three touchdowns and two interceptions. The CU signal caller was also sacked twice, once on his team's final drive.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said Colorado found success against his team's zone coverage in part because of the Blackshirts' reluctance to blitz.
"Colorado is a good offensive team," Pelini said. "They got inside our zone a couple of times, but that's going to happen. We played a lot of zone today and Colorado was patient. They were ready for some of our blitz packages and we didn't blitz all that much, so the other team has to be patient and try to make plays down the field."
After going three-and-out on their first series, Colorado answered Nebraska's touchdown with an 8-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in Klatt hitting D.J. Hackett on a 33-yard slant pattern for the touchdown. The Buffs then took a 10-7 lead after a 13-play, 47-yard drive ended in a 44-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
Colorado continued to find space in the Nebraska secondary in the second half and took back the lead at 22-21 on a 33-yard TD pass from Klatt to Derek McCoy.
The success continued into the next drive as the Buffs were successful on a fifth straight third-down conversion before Adam Carriker sacked Klatt for a 9-yard loss to end the drive.
Husker cornerback Pat Ricketts said his teammates were aware of Colorado's preference for short passes.
"Colorado nickel and dimed us with a bunch of short routes," Ricketts said. "We knew they'd keep taking those 5-yard outs and that opened up some bigger plays for them later on. When T.J. got his interception, we made note of their favorite routes."
Nebraska began to turn up the pressure on CU's sophomore quarterback in the fourth quarter.
The Buffaloes' first drive of the fourth quarter started on Nebraska's 38-yard line due to a shanked punt by Kyle Larson, but the Blackshirts held firm to force a three-and-out.
NU's efforts were further rewarded when Colorado punter John Thorp's ensuing punt spun backwards and netted just four yards.
Judd Davies capped the drive following Hollowell's interception with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, putting NU ahead 31-22.
The Buffaloes mounted one last drive in an attempt to salvage their postseason hopes and overcame a Demorrio Williams sack when Klatt scrambled for three yards on fourth and two.
The Buffs stood on the 6-yard line when Ricketts intercepted Klatt to help close out the game.
Klatt took responsibility for the mistake that closed out his team's season.
"That was just a bad throw," Klatt said. "(Hackett) had his man beat. It was a mistake on my part. If I give it a little air, he gets it. I got excited and threw it too hard to split two people."
Linebacker Barrett Ruud led the Blackshirts with 16 tackles, 12 of them unassisted, and had one tackle for a 2-yard loss.
Williams had eight tackles and a sack while Hollowell had seven tackles to go with his interception. Daniel Bullocks and Ryon Bingham each chipped in with six tackles.
Ruud's 16 tackles moved the junior linebacker into second place on the single season tackles list and third on the career tackles list.
passed Lee Kunz with his 280th career tackle and is now seven tackles behind current Chicago Bear Mike Brown for second place all-time.
Ruud surpassed Jerry Murtaugh's 132-tackle season of 1970 with his 140th tackle of the season, but Murtaugh still holds the career tackle record with 342 stops.