The greatest Rocky Mountain Showdowns in history: No. 3

Justin Michael

Aug. 30, 2003. CU 42 CSU 35

Any great rivalry has a few moments that truly stand out in history. Heading into the 2003 Rocky Mountain Showdown, there were a lot of storylines to follow. “Little brother” had grown up and the Rams were no longer a stomping mat for CU. In the backfield for the Rams, none other than former CU running back Marcus Houston. However on this night it was all about the quarterbacks.


A crowd of 76, 219 fans—the largest Rocky Mountain Showdown crowd in history— packed Invesco Field at Mile High, battling the rain and lightning to witness a quarterback battle for the ages.

Coming into the nationally televised contest, led by senior quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, No. 23 Colorado State came into the game confident, having defeated Colorado in three of the previous four seasons. Known for being a charismatic player, Van Pelt called out the Buffaloes for weeks prior to the game. CU and sophomore quarterbackJoel Klatt came into the game with a chip on their shoulder and on a stormy evening, the young signal caller gave an electrifying performance.

Arguably the only time in history, where CU was considered the underdog in the game, the “Klatt era” started with an upset of a Ram legend in BVP. The two teams combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense, including 741 through the air.

Klatt was phenomenal, completing 21-of-34 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns, outplaying Van Pelt, who put up career high totals in total yardage (339) and touchdown passes (three).

With the score tied 7-7 in the second quarter, Van Pelt dropped back and delivered a 32-yard touchdown strike to Chris Pittman, putting the Rams up by 14-7.

Less than one minute later, Klatt and the Buffs came storming back with an 82-yard touchdown pass to Derek McCoy.

Klatt would throw two more touchdown passes in the quarter, one to D.J. Hackett and one John Dohnahoe.

Down by fourteen to open the half (28-14), Van Pelt opened the third quarter with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Chris Pittman (28-21). Just like he did earlier, Klatt struck right back, delivering a 78-yard heave to Derek McCoy late in the third quarter. Just seconds after the score, lightning began to strike near the stadium and the game would be delayed 28 minutes.

Coming out of the delay, Van Pelt and the Rams began a furious fourth quarter comeback. Thirty seconds into the final quarter, David Anderson hauled in a 33-yard touchdown reception, once again bringing the green and gold within a single score, 35-28.

With just under two minutes remaining in the game, Van Pelt rushed for a 30-yard score, tying the game for the first time since the first quarter. After appearing to be dead in the water, Van Pelt and the Rams had come all the way back to tie the game and had a chance to force overtime.


The Buffaloes and the hot handed Klatt had led the entire game, but after blowing a double-digit fourth quarter lead, the Buffs still had a chance to go down the field and re-take the lead.

Like he had done all game, Klatt took care of business, hitting Jeremy Bloom inside the 10-yard line with less than one minute remaining. One play later, Bobby Purify rushed for the game winning touchdown with 40 seconds remaining, finalizing the Buffs 42-35 win.

Van Pelt and the Rams fell just short of defeating the Buffaloes for the fourth time in five years, but this game will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting college football games of the decade.

From the atmosphere in the stands, to the literal lightning in the sky, everything about this game was electric. Both teams battled until the last whistle blew and at the end of the day, there was not a fan in the stands disappointed with the effort from their perspective team. The 2003 Rocky Mountain Showdown was everything you could have asked for in a college football game.

Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at or Twitter @JustinTMichael.