TEMPE, Ariz. -- The way Colorado's kicking game had been going during yesterday's Fiesta Bowl, no one expected the ball to make it to the end zone on the fly. But on this kickoff, sure enough, Qadry Ismail looked up and saw the ball sailing toward him, a yard deep in the Syracuse end zone. Imagine his surprise.
The shock came later. For Colorado. The Orangemen took the kickoff return, turned it into a reverse and scored, ending much of any hope the Buffaloes had of winning after coming back for four quarters. Syracuse won, 26-22, and is 5-0-1 in its past six bowl appearances.
The game started slowly and then turned exciting, with a third-quarter scoring binge and the unique opportunity to watch the impact that kicking and punting can have on a game.
The lot of kickers and punters in football is often one of obscurity. Thus, attention lavished on Colorado's Mitch Berger after yesterday's game was unprecedented. And it was unwanted, on his part.
Buffaloes coach Bill McCartney pointed a finger squarely at Berger and his short kickoffs, missed 23-yard field goal and two missed extra points.
McCartney did not do the math. but it was easy to figure. The five points Berger had the opportunity to score were the difference in the game.
"We butchered the kicking game, and it cost us," McCartney said. "We miss two extra points, we miss a chip shot field goal and at the end of the game they were expecting an on-sides kick and we kick it to the 5-yard line."
Berger did not please his coach on the long kickoff to Ismail, either. Ismail had been silent most of the game and chose that moment as time expired in the third quarter to speak up. He took the kickoff one yard deep in the end zone and ran out to the 11, where he handed off to Kirby Dar Dar, who shook off one tackle and went for a touchdown.
The play broke the back of the Buffaloes' attempt to come back. And it nearly broke McCartney's patience, too. A television replay revealed at least three illegal blocks on the part of Dar Dar's teammates.
"Our guys were hit right in the back," McCartney said. "And the officials didn't call it."
Predictably, Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said he did not see any infractions.
The sixth-ranked Orangemen (10-2) succeeded where the 10th-ranked Buffaloes (9-2-1) failed. On a sandy field with unsure footing, Syracuse place-kicker John Biskup kicked field goals of 46 and 34 yards and was unerring on extra points.
Colorado led at halftime, 7-6. But in the final 6:22 of the third quarter, 29 points were scored on four touchdowns and a field goal. Two extra points were missed.
Syracuse started the scoring as halfback David Walker went up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown. That gave Syracuse a 12-7 lead and the Orangemen went for a two-point conversion. On the play, Walker took the quick snap and rolled right to pass. His wobbly throw ended up in the hands of Colorado's Sam Rogers.
The Buffaloes came back with their first sustained drive of the second half. The eight-play, 59-yard drive resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Berger, who made the kick despite having slipped on the sand in the middle of the field.