For the second time in three weeks the final statistics in a UB football game were nothing but illusion. That they favored the Bulls meant nothing. That they suggested a UB victory deceived.
The Bulls out-rushed Pitt on Saturday afternoon. They out-passed the Panthers, too. They rolled up 22 first downs to Pitt’s 13. Their offense had the ball for drives of 11, 12, 13 and 18 plays. And what did all this get UB? Two field goals and their fifth straight defeat, this one by the count of 20-6 at soggy, windswept UB Stadium.
The Bulls thirsted for the big play, the electric gain, the game-changing romp. But the players typically responsible for delivering those jolts of excitement weren’t at their disposal. Running back Bo Oliver (knee) and wideout Alex Neutz (chest) dressed but didn’t see the field and without them the yardage came in limited doses.
Devin Campbell broke off the longest run, covering 23 yards, while becoming the school’s first rusher to eclipse 100 yards twice in a true freshman season (he had 104). John Dunmore, the No. 5 receiver on the depth chart a week ago, had the day’s long catch, that going 20 yards. Neutz has four TD catches alone longer than that.
“We were able to move the ball but we weren’t able to have that one specific play that was explosive that put points on the board,” quarterback Alex Zordich said. “That’s what hurt us in the end.”
This was the second time in three weeks that statistics amounted to a mirage. Two weeks ago at Ohio University the Bulls had more first downs (30-16) and yards (501-333), converted 10 of 19 third downs and lost, 38-31.
“It’s frustrating,” Zordich said. “There really is no other word for it. You just got to keep working, keep grinding at it. You look at the numbers and you think you would win the game, just based on the first downs we had, the rushing yards we had, whatever. … We’re tired of it.”
The Bulls had a late touchdown pass from Zordich to Rudy Johnson wiped out when guard Graham Whinery was flagged for being too far downfield. Patrick Clarke’s third field goal attempt never came off because a high snap disrupted the timing. Meanwhile, Pitt (3-5) cashed its few opportunities. A 41-yard screen pass to Rushel Shell led to one of two Kevin Harper field goals. A Jason Hendricks interception and 23-yard return set up a 27-yard touchdown drive. Tino Sunseri’s 25-yard completion to Mike Shanahan on third-and-14 led to the third quarter touchdown that concluded the scoring.
History suggested the Bulls were dealing with a small margin of error, injuries or not. They hadn’t beaten Pitt in three previous meetings. They haven’t upset an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) school from an automatic-qualifier conference since knocking off Rutgers back in 2002. And they haven’t defeated an FBS team of any variety in more than 11 months. They just keep pressing ahead waiting for their luck and their fate to change.
Two fourth-down pass hookups between Zordich and Devon Hughes helped UB secure three points on its final drive of the first half and close to 13-6 at intermission. Hughes made the first down by a nose on fourth-and-2 and picked up 12 yards on a fourth-and-4 that advanced the Bulls to the Pitt 30. Zordich was particularly effective off the rollout on a drive that culminated with Clarke’s second field goal of the half, a 41-yarder with 12 seconds remaining.
Pitt had seized control early on, getting field goals of 45 and 22 yards from Harper and tacking on the 4-yard touchdown run by Shell. The TD capped a 27-yard drive that began when Hendricks intercepted Zordich’s sideline throw. The second field goal was set up by a textbook screen that sprung Shell for 41 yards. He was caught from behind by Khalil Mack at the UB 6, a hustle play made all the bigger by the ensuing defensive stop that forced the field goal.
A Ray Graham 7-yard run completed the scoring with 6:29 left in the third quarter and all those statistics were rendered irrelevant.
“We have a lot of faith,” Mack said. “We’re going to get a lot of our offensive firepower back these next couple weeks and we’re looking forward to the future and what the future holds.”