If a trio of seniors serve as the primary faces of UB football, Khalil Mack, Branden Oliver and Alex Neutz would be their names. The three have been bonded by personal success ever since their arrival. Their presence can be found at every turn in the school record book. And on Tuesday night, playing in their final game at UB Stadium, they united to flourish one more spectacular time.
Oliver churned for a career-high 249 yards and two touchdowns, Neutz caught a pair of record-tying TD passes and Khalil Mack ran roughshod over Ohio’s determined but overmatched blocking as the Bulls scored a resounding 30-3 victory before an announced crowd of 22,918 and an ESPN2 audience.
UB pulled away in the second half with an early controversial safety call serving as the springboard. The play seemed huge at the time, less so as the Bulls controlled both sides of the ball the rest of the way and scored their most impressive victory of the season.
The outcome leaves UB in sole possession of first place in the MAC East at 5-0 while Ohio slipped into third at 3-2. UB improved to 7-2 overall and owns the school’s first seven-game winning streak since 1958-59 and its first single-season seven-game run since ... 1897.
A curiously officiated game took a turn toward the bizarre in the opening minutes of the second half. As it turned out, a matter of 2 yards cost Ohio nine points and enabled UB to break off to a 16-3 lead.
The controversy began when Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton, scrambling to avoid Mack, threw the ball out of bounds. It was ruled the pass never made it to the line of scrimmage, resulting in a grounding call. It was also ruled that Tettleton threw the pass from the end zone, resulting in a safety call. That was fine with UB, not so with Ohio, since Tettleton threw the pass from about the 4-yard line and was driven into the end zone on the post-release tackle. The officials explained that the play was not subject to challenge because it involved the spot. The safety was upheld, and UB had a 9-3 lead that would soon become 16-3.
Ohio elected to punt on the free kick and Neutz returned it 19 yards to the Bobcats 46. Eight plays later Oliver made it to the end zone for the second time on the night, taking it home from 13 yards out.
UB put the game in a 23-3 stranglehold later in the quarter, completing a 61-yard drive on a 25-yard TD connection between Licata and Neutz. Licata, who has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season, found Neutz again from 24 yards early in the fourth quarter. The two TD receptions pushed Neutz’s career total to 28, tying the school mark held by Naaman Roosevelt.
UB came out of the first half with a 7-3 lead on the strength of Oliver’s 2-yard plunge out of the wildcat with 12:24 left in the second quarter. Ohio made inroads on Josiah Yazdani’s 23-yard field goal 23 seconds before intermission.
The defenses and the officiating dominated the quarter. Both teams had sizable receptions negated by offensive pass interference calls that, on replay, appeared nonexistent. UB totaled 172 yards in the half, 79 of them on runs by Oliver. Ohio was held to 129 yards and quarterback Tyler Tettleton managed just seven completions on 17 attempts.
Field position favored UB at the outset but Ohio flipped the field on a 27-yard hookup between Tettleton and Chase Cochran. A drive that started at the Bobcats’ 6 stalled near midfield and UB’s next possession began at its 20.
Ohio’s defensive line had the upper hand in the first quarter. It gained penetration into the UB backfield and gave Oliver almost nothing in the way of running room. And that’s the way it continued until UB’s 72-yard touchdown drive. Oliver carried four times for 35 yards on the march, including a 23-yard burst down to the 4. Also key was Licata’s 27-yard hookup with wideout Devon Hughes, who has emerged the last couple weeks after seeing his playing time slashed this season.
UB linebacker Khalil Mack was a nightmare for the Bobcats throughout the half. He hurried Tettleton throws on numerous occasions and came up with a forced fumble and recovery that set up UB’s TD drive. Mack punched the ball out of the hands of Matt Waters while the Ohio wideout was being stood up following a reception. The Bulls took over at their 28.
There was two ways to look at Ohio’s drive to Yazdani’s late field goal.
The Bobcats were fortunate in that a personal foul on Beau Bachtelle for an out-of-bounds hit on Tettleton kept the drive alive. And the Bulls were fortunate that cornerback Najja Johnson won a one-on-one battle with Blankenship by riding the powerful Ohio back down at the UB 7 with open space and the end zone beckoning.
The defense tightened. Okoye Houston shut down a wide receiver screen for no gain, Derek Brim broke up a pass in the end zone and Blankenship managed just 2 yards on third-and-goal from the 7.
Ohio came in with a 12-7 lead in the all-time series but a 2-4 record in MAC games played in Buffalo. The Bobcats brushed off a 14-0 deficit last year at Peden Stadium en route to a 38-31 victory. Two years ago at UB Stadium the Bulls won 38-37, handing the Bobcats one of only three defeats they suffered on the season.
The Bulls continue their string of three straight Tuesday nighters next week at Toledo. They finish up their road schedule the following Tuesday at Miami before concluding the regular season on Black Friday against Bowling Green at Ralph Wilson Stadium.