BOULDER, Colorado — A narrow loss to Southern California was not the only reason for Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre's somber tone after Friday night's game.
After leading the Buffaloes to a promising start, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau suffered a season-ending foot injury during the Buffaloes' 27-24 loss to USC on a frigid night.
Liufau was knocked out of the game after being sacked on the final play of the first quarter with a Lisfranc injury. He faces surgery on his foot in the coming days and will be sidelined six to eight months.
"It's tough, really tough," a subdued MacIntyre said. "I thought Cade (Apsay, the backup quarterback) came in and did some good things. Sefolo was hot. He was playing good. It was kind of going to be his night. Give Southern Cal credit, coming back and getting the game there. Definitely a heartbreaker for us. Kids kept fighting hard. We just came up short again."
Trailing by two touchdowns to a 16-point underdog, the Trojans (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) woke up on offense and scored 24 straight points. It was their 10th consecutive victory over Colorado (4-7, 1-6).
Cody Kessler gave the Trojans their first lead on a 2-yard pass to tight end Taylor McNamara late in the third quarter. The defense preserved the win by forcing a fourth-down incompletion on Colorado's final possession with 1:59 remaining.
Apsay, a freshman seeing his first extended action, finished with 128 yards and two TD passes, including one to Nelson Spruce. It was Spruce's 22nd scoring catch of his career, tying him with Scotty McKnight for most in school history.
"It was OK but I could do better for sure," Apsay said of his performance.
MacIntyre said he and his staff would discuss how to replace Liufau, who is 13 yards shy of the school's all-time passing record, for Colorado's last two games. He suggested both Apsay and Jordan Gehrke would be considered for the starting role and a decision would be made based on their performance in practice.
Seemingly in control at 27-17 in the fourth quarter, USC surrendered a 45-yard punt return from Spruce to set the Buffaloes up the near the goal line. Apsay connected with George Frazier for a 1-yard score, which energized the crowd.
But Southern Cal's defense rose to the occasion. The Trojans finished with six sacks and forced Christian Powell's fumble that set up Kessler's strike to McNamara.
Delvon Simmons preserved the USC lead early in the fourth quarter when he sprinted around the edge and blocked Diego Gonzalez's 51-yard field goal attempt. Adoree' Jackson scooped it up and raced 16 yards to the Colorado 36.
On the next play, Kessler hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a TD.
This wasn't the script Spruce envisioned in his final game at Folsom Field.
"It was right there, but it's kind of been the story of the season," Spruce said. "We just weren't able to finish."
Phillip Lindsay scored on a 4-yard run midway through the first quarter to give Colorado a 7-3 advantage. That was significant because it was the first time the Buffs have had a lead in a game against USC since Nov. 4, 2011.
It was the final home game for Larry Zimmer, the voice of Colorado football for 42 seasons. Over his career, he's described such momentous moments in Colorado history as the fifth down play at Missouri during the Buffaloes' 1990 national championship season and what's become his signature call — the Hail Mary catch by Michael Westbrook at Michigan in 1994.
Zimmer was presented with a framed jersey after the first quarter on what happened to be his 80th birthday.
"The 42 years, as I look back on it, isn't as amazing to me as that at 80 years old, I'm still doing it," Zimmer said.