By Budd Bailey
A closed door was no match for the sound generated by the University at Buffalo football team after Saturday’s game against Toledo.
The Bulls were in the locker room, and let out a group roar that could be heard throughout the football complex in UB Stadium. And why not? They had come back from a 27-10 deficit with 15 minutes to play to defeat the Rockets, 34-27. If it caught the attention of anyone walking the nearby hallways at that exact moment, imagine what it was like to be in the room.
“There was a lot of joy, a lot of happiness,” running back Ron Cook said. “That feeling – winning for your brothers, winning for each other – there’s nothing like it. Win as a team like that, especially like that – there’s no better feeling. We emptied the tank, kept our poise, and kept fighting.”
Those that left the stadium early to find better things to do on a fall afternoon – and their ranks were reasonably large – missed a game to remember. Trying to rank sporting events in terms of excitement is a futile gesture, but this one must be in anyone’s top five of UB games in recent years.
That’s in part because of the way the game developed, but also because of the situation. Both teams came into the game undefeated in Mid-American Conference play at 3-0. When the Bulls won, they not only became the team to beat in the entire conference, but they improved their record to 5-3 overall with their fifth straight win. That’s one win away from bowl eligibility.
For quite a while, such a day seemed unlikely. Toledo, which had rallied from an early 21-0 deficit last week to beat Kent State, 52-21, looked like a team that was ready to pick up where it left off the previous week. The Rockets scored first late in the first quarter on a 26-yard pass from Dequan Finn to Jamal Turner, and added a field goal early in the second quarter.
The Bulls received a shot of adrenaline when Jahmin Muse took a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown. Yet the big play had no after-effects. Toledo methodically went 75 yards in eight plays for a score, with Finn running 15 yards to conclude the drive. When the Rockets added another field goal late in the half to make it 20-7, it certainly didn’t seem like the Bulls’ day. Finn wasn’t taking complete control of the game like he did last week, when he accounted for seven touchdowns (six by the air). But he was good enough. At least Buffalo wasn’t hopelessly out of it.
“Hats off to the defense for keeping us in this game,” quarterback Cole Snyder said. “You talk about playing complimentary football. Some games are like that. They don’t always go the way you want to, but you just have to keep fighting. This team does not give up.”
UB opened the second half with a field goal, but eventually Toledo responded with an unhurried drive of 42 yards for a score. The 27-10 margin might have felt bigger than it was, as if it was time to at least warm up the coroner to do the postmortems on the Bulls’ winning streak.
Therefore, the UB rally was about as unexpected as a hurricane arriving in town on an absolutely perfect day for fall football. The Bulls had enjoyed little success throwing medium-length and long-distance patterns, as receivers had rarely been open. Therefore it was time for Plan C – throw it short. Suddenly Snyder and the offense found some rhythm.
“I think that’s fair to say,” head coach Maurice Linguist of the Bulls said. “I think the execution picked up a bit. We did go to some more free-access throws that they were giving us. A couple of times we tried to push the ball down the field when it wasn’t right there at the moment. We just regrouped … and took what they gave us.”
Buffalo marched right down the field, with Snyder running the ball into the end zone from six yards. Toledo went three-and-out, and UB again marched down the field – looking confident in the process. Snyder hit Jamari Gassett for 30 yards and a touchdown, and the Rockets’ lead was 27-24. Hmm. And when Marcus Fuqua made his second interception of the day for the Bulls, UB was in business again. Four plays later, Cook was in the end zone after a 30-yard run. The Bulls had scored 21 points in a preposterous seven minutes to take a 31-27 lead.
“It was crazy,” Snyder said. “You could just feel the energy on the sideline shift. We knew at halftime we had to make some adjustments, and we came out swinging.”
His team was cooking
Linguist’s biggest problem during that burst might have been to keep his emotions somewhat in check. He obviously was excited, but there was still work to be done.
“Everything in life has a balance to it,” he said. “You’ve got to have humility, because that’s where everything begins. And humility gives the ability to see things in the right way. But when we step on the football field, we want to be supreme and confident. I think you have to have intensity that’s off the charts, but also have poise in the moment.
“It’s like making a cake – some of the things that go into it might not taste so good on their own. But put it all together and it tastes pretty good.”
Toledo picked up a couple of first downs to move the ball on its next drive, only to stall. Even when Buffalo fumbled, the Bulls had an answer – Fuqua, with career-best pick No. 3. “I think I might have had two (in a game) in high school,” he said. “You have to make the plays when they come your way.”
The Rockets had time for one last drive and pushed the ball to the UB 22, but its last-gasp pass was intercepted by … UB’s Caleb Offord. Well, Fuqua couldn’t get every pass on this day.
“We knew that this could be a big game,” Cook said. “Now we know that the MAC runs through Buffalo.”
Finally, the Bulls could enjoy the unlikely victory. When they got into their locker room, they did exactly that.
“The feeling you get after a win, I don’t know in life if there’s any other situation that you feel that,” Snyder said. “I think that’s why people love sports and why people are part of that. It’s something special, and something you can’t replicate in life.”
UB’s next chance for celebrations will come on November 1, a Tuesday night at Ohio University.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)