They can say it’s just one game out of 12. They can insist that they all live in the moment and don’t bother to contemplate how what happens today impacts tomorrow. But those who were standing on the UB sideline aren’t human if at one point Saturday evening they weren’t moved to think, “Our season is in serious jeopardy.”
This play-down game against Stony Brook had found its way deep into overtime. Seawolves kicker Nick Ferrara was about to take aim on a game-winning 37-yard field goal attempt. And if the ball split the uprights the Bulls could all but forget qualifying for a postseason bowl game barring a heroic run to the Mid-American Conference championship, And if they couldn’t beat Stony Brook, a FCS team, who could invest any hope in the Bulls making that happen?
Ferrara’s a transfer from Maryland. Coach Chuck Priore was saying earlier in the week how lucky they were to have him. But Ferrera missed for the third time on the day, this one sailing wide left. Given that reprieve, UB rebounded to score a 26-23 victory on Anthone Taylor’s 6-yard touchdown run in the fifth overtime.
The longest game in the history of either school rained plot twists, some so bizarre they’ll require days to digest. UB (1-2) held the Seawolves (1-1) in check and had a 10-3 victory in its pocket until yielding an 80-yard drive capped by the tying touchdown with 29 seconds left in regulation. Then the Bulls needed a 42-yard Patrick Clarke field goal just to make it to a second overtime, and Stony Brook converted on a fourth-and-3 en route to the TD that forced a third extra session.
A Dwellie Striggles interception positioned UB for a chance at the win in OT No. 3 – until Joe Licata and Taylor fumbled a handoff on a first-down play from the Seawolves 13.
“I was slow getting around on the handoff,” Licata said.
“I might have been too close,” Taylor said.
“My fault,” Licata said.
“It was both our fault,” countered Taylor.
Licata was intercepted in the fourth OT, only to have Ferrara miss that kick for the win. He bounced back to hit a 25-yarder in the fifth OT, but UB finally had enough, about half an hour after a crowd of 24,013 – third largest in stadium history – had eroded to a few thousand.
Licata hit tight end Alex Dennison for a 19-yard gain, setting up Taylor’s run over the left side.
“Yes,” said Licata,
“Yes,” seconded safety Adam Redden.
“It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect but it was complete,” coach Jeff Quinn said. “Nothing more important than our kids coming out with a win to give them some confidence. We got a lot of work to do without a doubt.”
A loss might have had resounding ramifications. Had the Bulls fallen to 0-3 with a loss to an FCS team at home, dark clouds would have settled over the contract extension AD Danny White dealt Quinn at the end of last season. How would that have fed into the marketing blitz for the upscale East Club that’s in the works?
As it is, UB will be talking more defense than offense in the weeks ahead. Stony Brook had more first downs (25-22), outrushed the Bulls (140-133) and outpassed them (300-216). The Seawolves put together a monster game-tying drive on the road against an upper-division foe. Quinn said the Bulls were the better team in the end, and he has the scoreboard to bear him out. But all the other numbers associated with this one suggest the Bulls were exceedingly fortunate to slip on by.
As Ferrara lined up his potential game-winner, as UB players and coaches mustered all the hope within their grasp, Licata said he looked skyward for a sign that somehow this would turn out UB’s way.
“Honestly, I looked in the sky and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky,” Licata said. “But there was one sitting in the back corner of the end zone and it looked like a Nike sign. I’m not kidding. I can’t make this up. When I saw that I knew we were going to win the game. I’m not kidding. I wish I could make that up.”
UB played without Branden Oliver and struggled on the offensive end much of the game. Their lone touchdown drive in regulation, a 1-yard third quarter run by Taylor, came after Stony Brook muffed a fumble on its own 27. Clarke’s first field goal, a 17-yarder, followed a Najja Johnson interception at the Stony Brook 43 and rescued an offense that for the second time this season failed on first-and-goal from the 3.
The Bulls came out five wide with an empty backfield and went three-and-out, a strange opening script for a team that insists the run game is its identity. Quinn said that was the plan even if Oliver (knee tweak) played.
Stony Brook’s Priore was resolute in defeat. His team was a field goal away from scoring the upset. They had made an upper-division foe sweat bullets in its opener.
“When you play a five-overtime game you have a lot of momentum swings and you can’t dwell on it,” he said. “After 33 years in this profession I know one thing, we work for tomorrow and we work for next week.”
That’s the truth of it. And for UB the days ahead have far more meaning than they’d have been granted with a debilitating defeat