It was no secret what the Canisius College football team would rely on Saturday against its arch rival, the University at Buffalo.
As long as Tom Hersey has been coach, the Griffs pound away on the ground with a hard-running tailback. That time-tested strategy worked once again Saturday, as Mark Blecha gained 170 yards in leading the Griffs to a 31-17 victory over the Bulls before a crowd of 2,347 at UB Stadium.
But it was an uncharacteristic bit of razzle-dazzle that helped the Griffs snatch the victory from a stunned UB squad by scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter.
Canisius trailed, 17-16, with 2 minutes left and had the ball on its own 31 when Richard Nurse caught a 35-yard pass off a flanker reverse to put the Griffs in scoring position.
On the next play, freshman tailback Sean Fields burst through a huge hole off left tackle and ran 16 yards for the winning touchdown.
The reverse pass was a stunning play, since the Griffs had little success in the air all day.
"It's called a 25 reverse zig pass," said Nurse, a senior. "Glenn (Weber) threw it, and it was up for grabs, but I came down with it."
Nurse, whose 4.3 speed in the 40 may make him a pro draft choice, fought off UB corner Kyle Lester for the ball.
"That was a pro catch by Richard," said Hersey. "It was the first time we ran the play this year."
The ensuing touchdown by Fields, an explosive runner from Hutch-Tech, came with 1:33 left. Canisius quarterback Mike Robertson then hit tight end Phil Rapini with a two-point conversion pass, and Canisius led, 24-17.
UB turned the ball over on downs the next series, and Blecha ran 43 yards off tackle for a touchdown with 29 seconds left.
The victory moved Canisius to 3-2 and was the Griffs' third straight win and fourth in five years over UB. The Griffs have won all three games at UB Stadium on the Amherst Campus.
"It's always nice (to win) here," said Hersey, who relishes defeating the Bulls.
"We were down early and just never said die."
UB, coming off a 17-3 win over Hofstra, dropped to 2-4.
A strong wind that blew from the scoreboard end of the field played a big factor in the game. In fact, all the points were scored with the wind.
UB won the toss and chose to play with the wind to start both halves.
Hersey took that as an affront.
"Anytime your opponent gives you the ball twice, what they're over UB
saying is they don't have any respect for your offense," he said.
The strategy worked in the first quarter, as UB played exclusively in Canisius' end and scored on a 9-yard Frank Reilly pass to Chaz Ahmed and a 5-yard Alan Bell run.
Canisius answered in the second quarter after a short UB punt into the wind. Blecha's 1-yard run capped a 30-yard drive.
UB took a 17-7 lead entering the fourth on a 19-yard Tom McLaughlin field goal after the Bulls were stopped three times on the Canisius 2.
One sensed, however, the lead wasn't safe.
Behind Blecha's running, the Griffs drove 58 yards for a field goal by freshman Renson Mullen.
Reilly fumbled a snap on his own 11 on the next series, and two plays later, Fields ran 5 yards for a TD on a pretty option pitch. The conversion failed, making it 17-16, setting up Canisius' decisive drive in the final minutes.
Blecha, a senior, carried 30 times. His 170 yards were a career high.
"The offensive linemen worked their butts off," said Blecha, who has 569 yards this season. "The first half the holes were there, but I wasn't reading my blocks well enough. We have a steady game plan. People know what we do, and they have to stop us. Probably 75 percent of my runs are traps and counters."
Canisius outgained the Bulls, 356-285, and had 253 rushing yards to UB's 156."Blecha had an outstanding day, and whenever your tailback is running well, it means your fullback is doing the job. Chris Bailey (the Griffs' fullback) had a very good day," Hersey said.