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 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 given the caliber of the competition.
“The game didn’t come down to that one call, that’s the thing,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich. “It doesn’t come back to just one play. it was an accumulation of things, and they did really a good job.”
The numbers back him up. UB outgained the Bobcats, 421-233 and held Ohio to 104 second-half yards. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio’s all-time passing leader, completed just 14-of-31 throws for 126 yards, suffered three sacks and was consistently hurried. It was the third time in the last four games the Bulls have kept the opposition out of the end zone.
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, its title hopes virtually dashed. 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.
UB’s seniors talked of making their last game on campus a memorable one. Oliver sent out a text earlier in the week urging his fellow seniors to remain keen in their focus and preparations. It all went off better than planned. Oliver broke his own school Division I-A single-game rushing record. Neutz tied Naaman Roosevelt for the all-time school lead with his 27th and 28th career TD catches. And Mack – whew. The officials stats show him with five tackles, a forced fumble and recovery, three quarterbacks hurries, and a half-sack on the safety.
“Honestly, you couldn’t script it any better than what just happened. Neutz said. “I mean, Tuesday night, national TV, ESPN2. You got a future first-round draft pick, Khalil Mack, just being a beast. Branden Oliver, the things he does, the cuts, unbelievable. And he deserves it all. There’s just so much about that kid that so’s amazing and so inspiring and it just inspires us to be our best. And it doesn’t hurt to come out with two touchdowns to tie the school record.”
“I just wanted to give all the honor and glory to God first and foremost, because I know it’s not a coincidence for this team, the seniors, to go out the way we went out today,” Oliver said.
A curiously officiated game turned 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 Tettleton, scrambling to avoid Mack and linebacker Jarrett Franklin, 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 of the ball. The safety was upheld, and UB had a 9-3 lead.
Referee Tom McCabe told a pool reporter afterward that he was mistaken in ruling Tettleton had thrown the pass from the end zone.
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 Joe 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.
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 just before halftime.
Mack tormented the Bobcats throughout the half. He hurried Tettleton throws on multiple occasions and came up with a forced fumble and recovery that set up UB’s TD drive.