By Budd Bailey
It was the type of moment that can help make a season.
Alex McNulty of the University at Buffalo had just tied its game at 20-20 on Saturday against visiting Miami (Ohio) with a clutch 40-yard field. Overtime seemed certain, with its potential for unexpected twists. But at the least, the Bulls weren’t going to lose this one immediately.
But first, there was the matter of finding out what the penalty flag on the kick meant. Offsides, RedHawks.
Suddenly the Bulls had a choice. They had an almost sure ticket into overtime, but they could accept the penalty and have a first down on the Miami 17. Football coaches can be a conservative bunch at times, but UB’s staff quickly agreed to take the points down from the scoreboard and go for the win.
“I just liked the look that our offense had in the eye,” coach Maurice Linguist said. “There was no flinch, no back-down. I think (lineman) Gabe Wallace would have choke-slammed if I had tried to keep the field goal. He said, ‘Coach, put us back out there.’ And the guys responded.”
Buffalo quarterback Cole Snyder didn’t even know he had received a holiday gift almost three months early.
“They said ‘offense ready’ on the sideline,” he said. “I said, ‘What was happening?’ I didn’t even see the penalty or anything. I think Coach Mo has confidence in the offense. There was no doubt he was sending the offense out. We’re going to play aggressively; we have all year.”
After a short run and an incomplete pass, the Bulls made the decision look brilliant. Snyder hit an open wide receiver Justin Marshall in the end zone, and UB had the lead.
“All you need to know about Justin Marshall is that he was crying in the locker room (after the game,” Lingist said. “That’s how much it means to him.”
“It was an emotional game for me, because I play with a lot of passion,” said Marshall, who believed he hasn’t had many game-winning catches since high school. “Sometimes emotions get high. Things happen. The way the game swings – I was emotional. I couldn’t stop crying, but I was enjoying it.”
The extra point made it 24-20, and that was the final score. It was the second straight thriller for Buffalo in home games this season. Three weeks ago, UB had tied Holy Cross in the final minute, only to give up a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play of the game. There was no such dramatic ending this time.
It was a back-and-forth game, noteworthy perhaps about the way the teams leveraged a couple of big plays in scoring points. Buffalo marched 70 yards for the game’s first touchdown – Mike Washington doing the honors from a yard out. Miami countered when quarterback Aveon Smith went for a spectacular 73 yards for a touchdown to even the game at 7-7.
The Bulls regained the lead early in the second quarter, as Jahmin Muse ran an interception 51 yards to the Miami 2. Snyder carried it himself into the end zone. The RedHawks answered with a seven-minute drive that stalled when they were only five yards from potentially tying the game. They settled for a field goal to make it 14-10.
After a McNulty field goal made it a seven-point game early in the third quarter, Smith hit Mac Hippenhammer for 44 yards to move the ball deep into UB territory. Smith finished the job with a three-yard TD run to tie it. Then a Buffalo fumble on its next offensive play handed the ball right back to Miami, and the RedHawks received a Graham Nicholson field goal from 22 yards to take a 20-17 lead.
“The game was exactly what we expected it to be,” Linguist said.
That’s where the score stood when Buffalo had the ball on its own 18 with 4:22 left. The Bulls hadn’t had a drive of more than 45 yards so far in the second half. Yet the offense was confident that it could win the game. Did the confidence come with finally putting up a win last week against Eastern Michigan? Linguist said the good feeling had started earlier than that.
“I think the confidence from losing to Holy Cross, and then coming back and playing Coastal Carolina the way we did, was bigger,” he said. “We had to go on the road against a team that could win its conference championship, and we snapped the ball 40 more times than Coastal Carolina did. We controlled the ball for 40 of the 60 minutes of the game, had four takeaways. Those types of responses, even though the result was not what we wanted it to be, show the type of team we have.”
The Bulls may be 2-3 for the season, but they are 2-0 in Mid-American Conference play. All of a sudden, the possibilities for the current season have turned numerous as well as inspiring. Who knows what can happen next?
“Coach always talks about adversity; it lets you know who you are,” Marshall said.
Now we’ll start to find out how good UB can be, starting Saturday afternoon at Bowling Green.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)