Steve Stenstrom’s fifth touchdown pass of the game, a disputed three-yard strike to Tony Cline with eight seconds remaining, lifted No. 20 Stanford to a 41-37 victory over seventh-ranked Colorado on Saturday night.
The Buffaloes (2-1) blew a 37-27 lead in the fourth quarter as Stenstrom brought the Cardinal (2-1) back with a pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes.
Colorado built its lead to 37-27 on Kordell Stewart’s four-yard run with 12:41 remaining in the game, but Mitch Berger’s extra-point kick was wide left.
Stanford cut the lead to 37-34 with 3:33 to play on a 38-yard pass play from Stenstrom to Justin Armour, capping a 69-yard drive.
After forcing the Buffaloes to punt after three plays, the Cardinal got the ball back on the Colorado 46. Ethan Allen started the drive with a 19-yard run, and Ellery Roberts ran for 15 more yards.
The winning play came on third down from the three-yard line. Cline leaped and caught the ball, but dropped it when he was hit hard by a Colorado defender. Television replays appeared to show Cline’s feet touching the ground at almost the exact moment he dropped the ball. After a conference among the officials, the play was ruled a touchdown.
Stenstrom completed a career-high 30 passes in 42 attempts for 382 yards with two interceptions. The five touchdown passes were a career high. Stewart, who ran for two scores, skillfully executed the option, but completed only 13 of 30 passes for 277 yards.
Cline caught 11 passes for 120 yards, and Armour had 10 catches for 155 yards.
The Buffaloes took their first lead of the game, 24-21, with 11:18 left in the third quarter. Johnson caught a 34-yard pass from Stewart, who ran two yards around the right to score four plays later.
Stanford came right back, scoring on a 37-yard pass from Stenstrom to freshman Brian Manning to make it 27-24 with 8:43 to play in the quarter. Chris Berg’s pass conversion attempt was incomplete.
On the next possession, the Buffaloes went 80 yards in eight plays, burning Stanford’s defense with a 29-yard reception by Christian Fauria and a 19-yard touchdown run by Rashaad Salaam, who ran for 109 yards in 20 carries.
Colorado committed three turnovers, all in the first half, and the Cardinal capitalized on two of them.
In the first quarter, a fumbled Buffaloes snap allowed the Cardinal to take over at Colorado’s 17-yard line. Four plays later, Ellery Roberts’ one-yard run gave Stanford a 7-0 lead with 6:07 to play in the first quarter.
On Colorado’s next possession, Berger capped a 69-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal with 2:09 left in the quarter. But the Cardinal scored again when Armour got loose for a 48-yard touchdown reception, putting Stanford up 14-3 with 14:50 left in the first half.
Colorado’s next drive ended when Berger’s 47-yard field-goal attempt fell short, but with 5:44 left in the period the Buffaloes drove 86 yards, scoring on Stewart’s pitchout to Salaam.
Stanford took a 21-10 lead following interceptions, one thrown by Stenstrom, the other by Stewart, on consecutive plays. After the Cardinal got the ball back, Stenstrom hit Armour with a seven-yard scoring pass.
Johnson helped keep the Buffaloes close when he caught a 46-yard pass that set up an eight-yard touchdown run by Lamont Warren with 47 seconds remaining in the half.