By Budd Bailey
For those of you who stayed home from the University of Buffalo’s football game against Ohio University because of the threat of some rain, here’s an update.
Not only was there no rain, but in the end – and only in the end – the Bulls reigned.
And here’s everything you need to know about this game. UB trailed for the first 60 minutes of the game, sometimes by daunting margins. In fact, when the clock first read 0:00, the Bulls still hadn‘t led for a second.
But then came the final play of the game. Alex McNulty’s field goal from 26 yards gave the Bulls an improbable 27-26 victory. It came right after McNulty’s first field goal attempt had gone wide to the right … only to have Ohio penalized for going offside on the play. That gave him the chance at a do-over and he didn’t miss.
“It was nice to be there for my team when it needed me,” McNulty said. “I haven’t done the most consistent job this year, and I really wanted to be there. We really deserved to be win, and I wanted to be there to help them.”
“I’m so proud of the guys – proud of the way they fought, proud of the way they battled,” UB coach Maurice Linguist said. “Rarely do you play a perfect game, but the challenge for us was to play a complete game, and not let a circumstance dictate your behavior.”
An ugly beginning
The happy ending to the story from the Bulls’ perspective was all the more thrilling because of the way the day began. Western New York probably had its ugliest autumn morning of the year at the start of the day, with some nasty rain showers in the area. Those who were part of the sparse crowd in UB Stadium weren’t exactly filled with enthusiasm at the thought of sitting through the potential shower on a Saturday afternoon.
Then the game started, and the fans’ thoughts turned gloomier than the skies. Buffalo’s first series ended quickly, and the Bobcats answered by moving the ball 60 yards in less than four minutes for the game’s first touchdown. UB answered with a 58-yard run by Dylan McDuffie to the Ohio 8. The Bulls picked up the first seven of those yards, but fell a yard short of tying the game.
Then came the play that put this contest in the record book. Quarterback Armani Rogers – the son of former Buffalo Bills’ linebacker Sam Rogers – rolled to his left, cut through an opening, and found himself in the clear. Ninety-nine yards later, the Bulls were on their way to a 14-0 lead with less than half of the first quarter gone.
It was the longest run by a quarterback in Ohio University history. It was the longest run by a quarterback in Mid-American Conference history. Heck, it was the longest run by a quarterback in NCAA history. No signal-caller had ever gone the maximum distance before on a running play in a regular season game in a sport that dates back years and years. (It did happen in a bowl game.) Mark Malone once went 98 yards when he played at Arizona State in 1979; he went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. Rogers, by the way, finished with 204 yards rushing.
And it got worse for the Bulls. After a 1-2-3-kick series, the Bobcats moved the ball another 53 yards in six plays for a score. It was 21-0, and UB had had one offensive play of note while showing little ability to stop the Ohio offense.
“What do you do when you’re in a hole? You make the next right adjustment,” Linguist said. “You make the next right decision.”
But soon the clouds started to become a little less fearsome, and the Bulls showed a couple of signs of life. In the second quarter, the Bulls went 66 yards in 12 plays to set up a McNulty field goal. It almost seemed like a small gesture of defiance, but it was followed by a 78-yard drive for a score late in the half. McDuffie scored on a 4-yard run, and it seemed like a game again at 21-10.
Swings in momentum
Ohio tried to make a statement in the third quarter. The Bobcats took more than eight minutes off the clock in moving 58 yards for a touchdown. That was almost immediately followed by a safety that took place shortly after a UB miscommunication on a punt. At 26-10, Ohio seemed in control.
But the Bulls were starting to solve the Bobcats defense. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease was starting to find open receivers, and McDuffie – filling in for he injured Kevin Marks – was rushing for good yardage. After Vantrease hit Tyler Stephens for a two-yard touchdown, and McDuffie followed with a two-point conversion, it was 26-18, Ohio. You could see everyone on the UB sideline doing the math: it was a one-possession game. And the sun even came out a couple of times.
“The guys were blocking hard. I couldn’t let them down,” McDuffie said about his play.
After a fumble recovery in Ohio territory, UB scored that next touchdown – with Vantrease doing the honors with a pass to Trevor Boyland. But the two-point conversion failed, so the Bulls still trailed by two. Ohio went three-and-out, and UB got the ball on its own 5 with 6:19 left. The drive went on and on, deeper into the fourth quarter, with McDuffie (143 yards on 23 carries) and Vantrease leading the way. Finally, the Bulls had the ball on the Ohio 14 with three seconds left. Time out, UB.
The ball was snapped and kicked by McNulty, but ruled wide right by the officials (there’s some doubt about that). The Bobcats started to celebrate before they saw the yellow hankie on the ground. Offsides, Ohio. One more play was left.
“It was a short snap,” McNulty said. “The center made a good call. He saw their player jump. We had an early snap to get the offsides. It gave us the second chance. That was a good heads-up play by Jeremiah (Riorden).”
The second kick was much easier to call – straight through the uprights – and the Bulls had their third win of the season against four losses. It was their first conference win after a pair of difficult defeats. UB certainly had plans for a good finish to its season in the coming weeks, and this win was necessary to put the team in position to accomplish those goals.
“This team has had a ton of close games this season, and we’ve felt the pain of coming on the short end of the,” Linguist said. “These guys found a way.”
One last question, Coach. Have you ever been involved in a game where your team trailed for the first 60 minutes of play … and you still won in regulation time?
“I can’t say that I have. I can now,” he said with a smile.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)