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Liufau leads Colorado into Pac-12 title game

BOULDER, Colo. — Mike MacIntyre sometimes takes for granted the toughness of his senior quarterback.

Not when the Colorado coach goes back over game film, though. MacIntyre will catch a particularly smashing hit on Sefo Liufau that makes him wince for his durable QB and mutter, “Wow.”

“He’s given me a few ‘Wow’ moments,” MacIntyre said.

Liufau’s lifted the ninth-ranked Buffaloes (10-2, No. 8 CFP ) into the Pac-12 championship game on Friday against No. 4 Washington (11-1, No. 4 CFP) through his poise in the pocket, his take-it-through-the-tackles running style and, of course, his mettle.

“Sefo, being the guy that took the punishment in all kinds of ways, mentally and physically, and just kept ticking and kept going and putting one step in front of the other, really defined who we are as a program,” said MacIntyre, who was voted Pac-12 coach of the year on Tuesday. “To me, he’ll be a guy they’ll talk about for a long, long time as this thing keeps going.”

Hard to miss his name in the record books, because it’s all over the place. He’s set or tied 87 school records and counting.

Way more meaningful to him is this: Colorado’s headed to its first league title game since 2005 — back when they were in the Big 12 — and first bowl appearance since 2007.

“It’s all about just building and trying to keep the foundation going for a successful future,” said Liufau, who’s from Tacoma, Washington. “I want people to break my records. I want people to break this team’s record.”

There were days last spring when Liufau didn’t know if he would even play this season. Days when he soaked his surgically repaired foot in a cold tub and wondered how long it would take to heal.

Liufau injured his left foot in the first quarter against USC on Nov. 13, 2015, with the team driving for a score. He had surgery a week later for an injury that usually involves a separation of ligaments and joints in the foot and requires an arduous rehab. The general timeline would sideline him for around eight months.

As an insurance plan, the Buffaloes announced in February that quarterback Davis Webb would be joining the program soon after graduating from Texas Tech. But then Webb announced he changed his mind and was heading for California.

As it turned out, Liufau was ahead of schedule in his rehab and made it back in time for the season opener, even earning the league’s offensive player of the week honors for his play.

He’s certainly taken his share of bumps and bruises this season. Most notably, injuring his ankle at Michigan which caused him to miss two games. He’s also dealing with a nagging hip pointer that causes him to grimace at times after a hard hit. But he gets back up and that’s a reason why the Colorado fans recently voted him the Buffalo Heart award recipient.

“I guess he does amaze me at times with his toughness and how he keeps playing and how he keeps fighting and how he fights through things mentally,” MacIntyre said. “He does amaze me sometimes, but I’m so used to it.”

Lately, the Buffaloes have expanded their offensive repertoire to rely even more on the size and strength of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Liufau. Not around the edges, either, but through the middle. He’s averaged 19 carries over the Buffaloes’ six-game winning streak.

“Whatever it takes to win. If that means going between the tackles, and doing whatever it takes to win, I’ll do it,” said Liufau, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection this season.

He’s certainly earned the respect of Washington coach Chris Petersen.

“He’s a really good quarterback, there’s no doubt,” Petersen said at his weekly news conference. “He’s a good passer, but he’s a power runner as well.”

That was highlighted against Washington State on Nov. 19, when Liufau became only the second Colorado QB to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in a game. He joined Steven Montez, who accomplished the feat at Oregon in September while filling in for a banged-up Liufau.

“You’ve got to do your best to keep pushing and keep grinding in whatever you’re doing,” Liufau said. “That’s the biggest thing I want to leave. It’s not necessarily, ‘He was a tough quarterback.’ I want this program to succeed long after I’m gone.”