With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Colorado’s Brendon Lewis avoided a rusher, stepped up in the pocket and fired a laser to Montana Lemonious-Craig for a touchdown.
Then, in overtime, he sprinted to his left, dove for the pylon and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
It was Cole Becker’s 43-yard field goal that ultimately sunk Oregon State, 37-34, in double overtime on Saturday night at Folsom Field, but it was Lewis who shined brightest.
Lewis threw for 170 yards and three touchdowns and added a 9-yard scoring run in what may have been his best game of the season, sparking some confidence as the Buffs (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) prepare to visit UCLA (5-4, 3-3) on Saturday in Los Angeles (7 p.m. MT, TV: Pac-12 Network).
“Right now I think what’s driving the ship is B-Lew,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said.
Oh, how things have changed for the Buffaloes’ freshman quarterback in a couple of short weeks. Suddenly, the Buffs have a quarterback that looks capable of leading the team not only for the rest of this season but perhaps in the future.
Seven games into the season, there were serious doubts about that. Lewis completed just 54.8 percent of his passes for 792 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions through the first seven games and he often looked lost as the offense struggled to score.
During the last two weeks, however, Lewis has been on fire. He’s completed 40-of-57 passes (70.2 percent) for 394 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in those games.
“He’s probably feeling like he felt back in Melissa, Texas, prior to coming to CU,” Dorrell said. “I think when he was a high school quarterback he felt he could do anything.”
A dynamic dual-threat at Melissa (Texas) High School, he accounted for 12,162 total yards and 151 touchdowns. His numbers haven’t been that eye-popping for the Buffs, but his confidence is getting there.
“I feel good,” he said after beating Oregon State. “I feel like I’ve been progressing every week and I feel like my teammates are a big part of that. They’re going out there making plays for me. The O-line is holding up well, so I just feel like we’re all progressing as a unit, as a whole.”
No question, Lewis has had help. Dorrell fired offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue two weeks ago and that unit has been dramatically better in the two games since. Running back Jarek Broussard had his first big game of the season on Saturday, a week after Alex Fontenot had a big game. And multiple receivers have stepped up.
It is the change in Lewis that is most dramatic, though.
“His confidence where he can overcome situations is definitely a lot different now than when it was at the start of the season,” Dorrell said. “I think a lot of that is because the team has pushed him out front as, ‘You’re our leader. We believe in you. Let’s go.’ And he’s kind of taken and run with that.”
Through the struggles early in the season, Dorrell often spoke of trying to keep Lewis’ confidence up. Dorrell, offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini and quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf kept him in games to give him more opportunities to find success. The team has done the same, as Lewis was named a captain on Saturday for the fourth week in a row.
“My teammates never gave up faith in me,” Lewis said. “They always told me that they still believe in me, each and every game, even when we weren’t playing well. So I feel like they’ve done a great job of lifting me up and helping me progress as a player; (along with) coach Langs, coach Dorrell, coach Chev. Practices have been a lot better. I feel like it all starts in practice.
“Every week, we just keep progressing. It’s a good feeling knowing we’re getting better each and every week.”