BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Two-way standout Travis Hunter returned from a lacerated liver that sidelined him for three games and played the roles of both hero and goat in Colorado’s 46-43 collapse against Stanford on Friday night.
Hunter led the Buffaloes with 13 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in nearly a month, and he collected five solo tackles on defense.
But he also was burned by Cardinal star receiver Elic Ayomanor, whose school-record 294-yard performance was highlighted by a 30-yard touchdown catch in the first overtime. The stout sophomore corralled Ashton Daniels’ throw on the back of Hunter’s helmet, held on as their momentum took both into the end zone and lifted the ball over Hunter’s head just as he backpedaled in for the score.
Coach Deion Sanders didn’t hold back on Hunter’s workload and when it was suggested that decision will be scrutinized in light of Ayomanor’s big day, Sanders retorted, “His conditioning is great. There were some plays he made and some plays he didn’t. Just so happens the plays he didn’t make at the end are magnified. But the plays he made kept us in that game.”
Ayomanor finished with three touchdowns on 13 catches, including a 97-yard scoring play that jump-started Stanford’s comeback after trailing 29-0 at halftime.
It was the biggest collapse in Colorado’s history and the biggest comeback ever by the Cardinal.
Hunter celebrated his much-anticipated return to action with a 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter. It was his first touchdown for Colorado (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), which frittered away the chance to move within one win of bowl eligibility just one year after a 1-11 campaign led to the hiring of Sanders.
Hunter added a 16-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter and took a vicious shot to the midsection from Stanford safety Mitch Leigber. Hunter held on and bounced right up. That gave Colorado a 36-26 lead with 11:18 remaining and ended a run of 26 unanswered points by the Cardinal.
Stanford rallied to tie it on a last-second field goal at the end of regulation and on Ayomanor’s amazing TD grab off Hunter’s helmet in the first overtime. In the second extra period, Shedeur Sanders threw an interception and Joshua Karty nailed a short field goal to complete the Cardinal comeback.
Despite the devastating loss, Coach Prime has quickly transformed Boulder from a gridiron wasteland into the epicenter of college football thanks to his star power, heavy use of the transfer portal and millions of dollars pouring into university coffers and players’ pockets with a name, image and likeness bonanza.
Among the stars Sanders brought with him from Jackson State were sons Shedeur and Shilo, along with Hunter. He was a five-star recruit who was considered the top talent in the nation when he shunned Florida State to play for Sanders, first in Mississippi for an HBCU program and now in Boulder.
Hunter burst onto the Power 5 scene with a standout game at TCU in the college football opener and followed that with a stellar outing against Nebraska.
But in the Rocky Moutain Showdown a late hit by a Colorado State defender sent him to the hospital with a lacerated liver and he missed games against Oregon, USC and Arizona State.
He was slated to return Oct. 28 against UCLA following the Buffaloes’ bye next week, but he received medical clearance to return to practice earlier this week. When the Buffaloes started out on defense against Stanford (2-4, 1-3), Hunter received a big hug from his coach as he trotted out to play cornerback.
When the Buffaloes forced a quick punt and got the ball for the first time, Hunter lined up wide right. On Colorado’s second possession he scored on a 24-yard catch-and-run that included a nifty spin out of a tackle at the 17.
Hunter ran right through the back of the end zone, dropped the ball and dropped to his knees, seemingly in thankful prayer. A flag was thrown for unsportsmanlike conduct following his gesture.
On Sept. 16, Hunter was running a deep route in the first quarter of the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Folsom Field when he was hit by Rams defensive back Henry Blackburn shortly after the ball sailed over his head, drawing a flag.
Hunter returned to the game but later left to go to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a lacerated liver.
In the days that followed, Blackburn received death threats, which coach Sanders passionately condemned. Hunter chimed in, too, saying he held no grudge against Blackburn and that nasty hits were simply the hazards of playing football.
Hunter later showed there were no hard feelings by meeting up with Blackburn at a Boulder area bowling alley to raise money for charity.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll