IOWA CITY -
In a game of jaw to jaw football, Colorado threw the knockout punch.
The underdog Buffaloes went the full 15 rounds with Iowa, delivering the KO with 1:55 remaining when quarterback Sal Aunese dove over for a touchdown from the 1-yard line, capping an 11-play, 85-yard drive.
Aunese's TD gave Colorado a 24-21 victory in sold-out Kinnick Stadium Saturday, spoiling the home opener for Coach Hayden Fry's Hawkeyes in what has become a puzzling, frustrating season.
Iowa, which will quickly exit the Associated Press Top Twenty poll after sitting at No. 19 for a week, is 1-2. It's been four years since a Hawkeye team lost two of its first three games. It was also four years ago Colorado finished the year with a 1-10 record.
But the Buffs, who went 7-4 last year, felt a victory over Iowa could vault them into the Top 20 for the first time in 10 years. "I'm not predicting ourselves ready for anybody, but this establishes us as a good football team," said Coach Bill McCartney.
Fry spent much of the week talking about the "gut-check" the physical Buffaloes would give his team. When it came time to look at Iowa's insides, the team was found wanting.
"We weren't tough enough to win, and that's the bottom line," Fry said.
Specifically, Iowa held a 21-17 lead with about 5 1/2 minutes to play and had the ball on the CU 7.
But quarterback Chuck Hartlieb, rattled by a blitzing pass rush and solid defensive coverage, fumbled the ball on a blindside stunt by safety Dave McCloughan. End Alfred Williams recovered. "No one touched me," McCloughan said.
"I didn't feel him coming at all," Hartlieb replied.
Two plays gained nothing before Aunese found Jeff Campbell for a 23-yard completion. Another pass to Campbell picked up 13 more.
With Iowa's defense on its heels, Aunese slipped a handoff to nifty halfback Eric Bieniemy, who scooted for 22 yards to the Iowa 23. Bieniemy, who gained 153 yards on 25 carries, and Aunese alternated carries before the winning touchdown.
"Had we been tougher, they wouldn't have marched the length of the field and scored on us," Fry said.
The coach left no doubt as to his disgust with the final quarter. "On that last drive on defense, I bet I could have run with the ball," he said.
Colorado (2-0) ran no trick plays, nothing fancy. "We weren't getting after it," defensive end Joe Mott said. "We weren't intense. When that happens, we are not a good football team. When it all counted, we couldn't do it."
The Buffs scored twice in the second half, both times set up by Hartlieb fumbles. Early in the third period, Williams crunched Hartlieb on another blitz, with Don DeLuzio picking up the fumble at the Iowa 29.
Eric Hannah's 28-yard field goal was the result. It gave CU a 17-14 lead.
"We blocked the right guy, we just didn't't block hard enough," Fry said. Hartlieb lost 42 yards in sacks. "The pressure really bothered Chuck," Fry said. Was the coach surprised by that? "Yeah," he said.
Hartlieb finished with 269 yards on 20-of-38 passing. But the Buffs' Bruce Young intercepted Hartlieb in the waning moments. Colorado defenders dropped at least three more interception chances.
"They did a couple of things I wasn't expecting," Hartlieb said. "It was more of a situation where I couldn't find my receivers like I did in the past."
Hartlieb didn't get much help from his ground game. Colorado's defense limited Iowa to 75 yards rushing on 38 carries.
"I don't know if we were flat," said tight end Tom Ward, making his first college start. "Some people need a kick in the behind to play well."
Ward, subbing for the injured Marv Cook, wasn't one of them. He caught six passes for 94 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown on a 19-yard pass in the third quarter.
Ward's score, which finished a 96-yard drive, lifted Iowa to its first lead of the game at 21-17.
A key play in the drive was a leaping catch by red-shirt freshman Jon Filloon, who picked up 36 yards and got the Hawks out of a deep hole.
The Hawks dug themselves a 14-0 divot in the opening minutes. On Colorado's second possession, Aunese and fullback Erich Kissick put together a 74-yard drive ended by J.J. Flannigan's 5-yard run.
Less than three minutes later, Aunese — who missed all of spring practice after an assault conviction — scrambled 17 yards for another touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
But Iowa's special teams pushed the Hawkeyes into a tie. Mark Adams, punting for Cook, dropped one out of bounds at the Colorado 2. On fourth down from the 8, first-year CU punter Keith English saw his kick blocked by Tyrone Berrie. Merton Hanks recovered for an Iowa touchdown.
"I knew I could block it as soon as I came off the ball a couple of steps," Berrie said.
Four plays later, English was again punting from his own end zone. His weak 27-yard effort gave Iowa the ball at the CU 37.
Hartlieb smartly marched Iowa in for the tying touchdown, picking up 16 yards on a pass to Filloon and 12 himself on a naked bootleg. David Hudson scored from the 3.
Hartlieb set a school record for passes thrown without an interception with 144, breaking Phil Suess' mark of 129 set in 1980. Ironically, the attempt that set the record was thrown into the hands of Young, who dropped it. It was that kind of day.
Hartlieb also moved past Gary Snook into second place on the career yardage list and tied Randy Duncan with his 23rd touchdown throw.
"I don't think we let up," Hartlieb said. "I don't think they did either. The ball just bounced their way."The Hawkeyes host Iowa State on Saturday in the final non-conference game of the year.