KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Western Michigan might have owned the hottest kicker in the Mid-American Conference going into Saturday. Andrew Haldeman had converted eight straight field goal attempts, making him about the most dependable facet of the Broncos’ offense.
The University at Buffalo’s Patrick Clarke, meanwhile, had endured a wild ride that had seen him hit just 4 of 9 tries.
But the tale of the kickers at Waldo Stadium on Saturday didn’t go according to recent form. Haldeman missed a 33-yarder late in the first half that would have cut UB’s lead in half. Clarke emerged from intermission and promptly hammered a career-best 51-yarder that would have cleared the crossbar from at least 57. The miss-make represented a huge momentum shift in UB’s eventual 33-0 victory over the winless Broncos.
“I knew we had to get those points, those were big points for our team,” Clarke said. “Like you said, that’s a big momentum shift. Right after that it just seemed like we got rolling.”
The ball seemed to be sailing heading toward that end of the stadium but Clarke said the breeze was more treacherous than it may have seemed. He knew he had to hit it solid.
“It felt good coming off my foot,” Clarke said. “As soon as I hit it I knew it was going in. I guess it’s what I was talking about earlier in the week, just having to go out there and no matter where it’s from I have to get three for my team. That’s how I look at it, so going out on the field I was telling myself, ‘Aw, this is an easy kick.’ ”
One area where Western Michigan has excelled is pass defense. The Broncos came in with the MAC’s top-rated pass unit, and it isn’t just because opponents have had great success running the football. The Broncos have talented corners, and they were on a mission to put the clamps on UB’s Alex Neutz.
The Broncos held Neutz to just two catches for nine yards (one a 2-yard TD). But the focus on Neutz opened the door for others, and Fred Lee stepped to the fore. Lee had four catches for 88 yards, including a 28-yard TD reception that made it 23-0 in the third quarter.
“They talked about shutting down Alex,” Lee said. “They said he was the only guy in the pass game that could give them a threat and they were the No. 1 pass defense in the MAC. I just took that as a challenge to just work some back-side routes and stuff and Joe Licata took advantage of it, threw some great balls.”
“Freddie stepped up, stepped up big time,” quarterback Joe Licata said. “Alex isn’t going to be able to go for 200 yards a game, every game, and Fred did a great job of that today.”
True freshman Boise Ross came up with his first catch as a Bull on UB’s first-half touchdown drive, a 13-yarder that set up the only points of the half. Ross didn’t play earlier in the season as UB weighed a redshirt. But his speed makes him a valuable commodity on a team that doesn’t blaze out of the wide receiver spot. Ross went 10 yards on a reverse on UB’s first touchdown drive against Eastern Michigan last week. Redshirt freshman Malcolm Robinson had his first career catch on UB’s fourth-quarter drive to a 36-yard Clarke field goal.
Tyler Grassman’s 64-yard first-quarter punt was UB’s longest since John Rachuna nailed a 71-yarder in this very same stadium in 2009. … Adam Redden partially blocked a J. Schroeder punt in the second quarter but the kick still covered 33 yards. Redden’s play came the series after he was called for a block in the back, negating a Neutz punt return of some 50 yards. … Najja Johnson ended a second-quarter WMU threat with his third interception of the season and his eighth since the beginning of last year. The ball skipped off the hands of wide receiver Corey Davis.
Licata and Western Michigan backup Zach Terrell are part of a select group. Each threw for a touchdown on the first pass attempt of his college career. Licata completed in a 28-yarder to Neutz in the third quarter of last season’s second game, against Morgan State. Terrell subbed when Broncos starter Tyler Van Tubbergen was dinged in the second quarter of the season opener against Michigan State and immediately launched a 14-yard scoring pass to Clark Mussman. … This is the 75th year of football at Waldo Stadium. Upgrades have made Waldo one of the top football complexes in the MAC. Seating in the east end zone backs up to the Seelye Center, the team’s indoor practice facility. A balcony off the center overlooks the field and contains private seating areas.