ATHENS, Ohio – UB snatched plays out of the playbook that hadn’t before seen the light of day. They blocked a punt and converted a fake punt. They put two runners over the 100-yard mark and piled up more than 500 yards of offense.
The Bulls ran the wildcat like they invented it. They threw for a touchdown off a reverse. They blew up an Ohio fake field goal attempt.
Yes, the University at Buffalo did just about everything. Except beat the Bobcats.
In a game that again underscored their potential along with their ongoing struggles to close the deal, UB built a quick 14-point lead, bounced back from a 10-point deficit and then withered down the stretch in a 38-31 loss to unbeaten Ohio on a sunny afternoon at Peden Stadium.
How’d the Bulls lose? By committing three turnovers, two of them resulting in points. By giving up a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown after jolting the Bobcats for a pair of early scores. And by allowing touchdown drives of 65 and 55 yards inside the final 20 minutes when they had yielded no marches long than 39 yards before that point.
“It’s beyond frustrating,” said quarterback Alex Zordich. “We made plays. We made great plays. But we made plays that put us out of the game. We didn’t take care of the ball when we needed to. If you look at how many yards we had on offense, we should have won the game. But we didn’t.”
“You just focus on the things you did right because we did a lot of good things,” tight end/wildcat QB Alex Dennison said. “They way to stay positive … is to know we did so many good things and we need to keep moving forward with those good things we did.”
The teams were tied at 24 when Ohio drove 65 yards in 11 plays to take the lead for good on the first play of the fourth quarter. Ryan Boykin, slowed must of the season by a hamstring injury, scored from a yard out. The big play on the drive was a 36-yard pass from Tyler Tettleton to Matt Waters on second and 30 from the UB 42.
Boykin added a 51-yard TD run with 5:56 left before UB, with Joe Licata having replaced Zordich at QB, drove 77 yards for the final points, a 1-yard Dennison run with eight seconds remaining.
UB outgained Ohio, 501-333 overall and 313-161 on the ground. True freshman Devin Campbell, No. 4 on the running back depth chart a month ago, ran 30 times for 160 yards in his first career start. Zordich carried 19 times for 110, becoming the first UB QB to top the century mark. The Bulls held the ball for more than 35 minutes.
“We played well, that’s the frustrating thing,” Dennison said. “Everyone played so well. The offense line may have played their best game of the year.”
The first half was a wild seesaw ride that saw UB shoot out to a 14-0 lead yet trail 21-14 at the break. Turnovers killed the Bulls. Ohio turned an Alex Neutz fumble off a reception into a 14-yard TD run by Beau Blankenship that tied the score at 14-14. Later, with Ohio punting, the kick bounced off a UB blocker Derek Brim and was recovered by the Bobcats at the Bulls 15. Once again Ohio scored on the next play, this time with Tettleton throwing to Tyler Futrell at the end zone sideline.
UB looked nothing like a team that has gone two years without a road win in opening a 14-0 first quarter lead. The Bulls took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 10 plays capped by a 3-yard Campbell run. The drive included a third-and-1 conversion by Alex Dennison out of the wildcat formation and a 17-yard run by Devon Hughes off a double reverse.
Najja Johnson’s interception of Tettleton on Ohio’s next possession ended a streak of 161 passes without a pick for the Bobcats’ quarterback. UB rode the momentum 93 yards and led 14-0 when Zordich found Hughes in the end zone from 10 yards. The kay play was Zordich slipping a tackle in the backfield and convering a third-and-2.
“We were kind of excited the way we came out because we usually don’t come out like that,” Dennison said. “We felt the momentum. But we got to learn to build from this and we’ll become a better team.”
The 14-point advantage lasted all of 13 seconds. Daz’mond Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards, becoming the second return man to go the distance on the Bulls this season. Georgia’s Todd Gurley did it in the opener. Next thing you knew Ohio led, 24-14.
“We got to eliminate those errors and stop shooting ourselves in the foot because we we shot ourselves in the foot one too many times and Ohio took advantage of that,” Najja Johnson said.
UB clawed back in the third quarter on a 45-yard Patrick Clarke field goal andDennison’s 55-yard TD connection with Alex Neutz off a reverse. The Bulls just couldn’t sustain.
“It’s a bottom-line business,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich “And wins are the bottom line.”