BUFFALO, NY – The University at Buffalo football team improved in so many areas Saturday in their battle with Mid-American Conference powerhouse Central Michigan, however, their struggles in the red zone ultimately spelled the difference in a narrow 20-13 loss before 18,092 fans at UB Stadium.
The Bulls, who had struggled in both running and stopping the run in previous games, got a career effort from first-time starter Ike Nduka, who had 172 yards on 22 carries, and the defense limited the Chippewas, who averaged over 160 yards per game coming in, to 144 yards on 35 carries. However, three times the Bulls had the ball inside the 20-yard line and came away with just six points.
The Bulls had three chances to score in the fourth quarter, but ended up not drawing any closer than the final score. The first opportunity came early in the fourth quarter when the Bulls drove from their own seven-yard line to the CMU 11-yard line in a 10-play drive. Nduka had a 24-yard run, while quarterbackZach Maynard had a big 17-yard connection with wideout Naaman Roosevelt. However, on fourth-and-inches from the CMU 11, Maynard was stopped short on a quarterback sneak.
The Bulls defense then got the ball back with a key play from junior safety Davonte Shannon. On a third-and-two play from the UB 39, Shannon dropped Central quarterback Dan LeFevour for a five-yard loss to force a punt.
The Bulls next drive was stopped on a leaping interception by Josh Gordy who was in man coverage with Roosevelt. Buffalo had one last chance, however, a Hail Mary throw to the end zone on the game's final play was incomplete.
Maynard finished the game completing 16-of-31 passes for 210 yards, while also running for 23 yards on eight carries. His favorite target again was Roosevelt, who had six receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown. The Bulls rushed for a season-high 223 yards on 37 carries (6.0 yards per carry).
"It was a tough ball game," said head coach Turner Gill. "There were some things I saw in every phase of the game – offense, defense and special teams – that there was some progress made from the previous games and we can build on that.
"The running game was an area that we demanded improvement," said Gill. "It was something we talked about, worked on and practiced all week. We did that. I would have thought that if we had this amount of yards that we would have been successful and win the ballgame."
The Chippewas started the second half by extending their lead to 20-10 on the opening drive of the third quarter when LeFevour hit Antonio Brown for a 27-yard score.
After a missed field goal by the Bulls from 46 yards out, things looked desperate as the Chippewas again drove inside the Bulls 25-yard line. However, the Bulls defense forced a huge turnover when defensive tackle Richie Smith stripped Kito Poblah with Buffalo recovering at their own 18-yard line.
Buffalo then had to wait on a 30-minute weather delay because of lightning in the area. However, when the teams returned, UB embarked on a 79-yard drive in 10 plays to cut into the lead. The big play was a 48-yard run by Nduka which put the junior over 100 yards for the first in his career. Maynard ended the drive by gaining 23 yards – on a third-and-goal from the CMU 26, to set up the 21-yard field goal by Principe with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Early in the game, it was all Central Michigan as the visitors rolled to an early 13-0 lead. The Chippewas opened the scoring on their first possession of the game after the Bulls were forced to punt to open the game. After just a 21-yard punt, Central had a short field and drove 46 yards in six plays capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Dan LaFevour to Bryan Anderson. After the PAT, Buffalo trailed 7-0 with 11:43 left in the first quarter. The Chippewas were able to convert a key third-and-11 on the drive.
The Bulls were struggling in the first quarter, when a big defensive play changed the momentum. Shannon, the two-time All-MAC selection who finished with eight tackles, and one for loss, intercepted LeFevour at the Bulls' 33-yard line and returned the ball 20 yards to set the Bulls up in Chippewa territory at the 47-yard line. After a pair of false starts, Maynard hit Roosevelt for a 24-yard pass to convert the first down and keep the drive alive. However, a sack ended the Bulls' scoring threat and the Bulls had to punt for the fourth time on the afternoon.
Central Michigan took advantage of the defensive stop by driving for its second score. The Chips moved 80 yards in just eight plays with LeFevour completing all five of his passes and adding a 10-yard run. Antonio Brown eventually scored from seven yards out. The PAT kick, however, failed and the Chippewas led 13-0 with 10:12 left in the half.
The Bulls got themselves back in the ballgame in the latter stages of the second quarter. The longest scoring drive of the season – 16 plays, 64 yards – resulted in a 22-yard field goal by A.J. Principe – with 3:31 left in the half. Nduka had 32 yards on four carries on the drive to pace the offense.
The Bulls then got the ball right back after stopping Central three downs and out. On third down and one, senior defensive tackle Dane Robinson stopped LeFevour short of the first down.
Buffalo then conducted a classic two-minute drill drive to get their first touchdown of the game. Nduka started it with a 21-yard run and later caught a 12-yard pass from Maynard. The capper was a 24-yard laser from Maynard to Roosevelt on a post pattern for a touchdown with :47 left in the half. Principe's PAT made the score 13-10 at halftime.
Defensively, the Bulls got career efforts from linebacker Scott Pettigrew and defensive tackle Anel Montanez. Pettigrew had 10 tackles (six solos), while Montanez had seven stops (five solos, including one for loss). Junior linebacker Justin Wintersadded seven tackles and a sack.
BULL-etins: This was the sixth meeting all-time between the teams with Central Michigan holding a 5-1 advantage all-time after Saturday's result...Buffalo's win came in 2004 when the Bulls won 36-6 at UB Stadium... Naaman Roosevelt has caught a pass in 43 straight games - the second longest streak of any player in the nation. He remains second on the list with Central Michigan's Bryan Anderson holding the first place spot after extending his streak to 45 straight games after today's game...Davonte Shannon recorded his fifth career interception in the first half, his last interception was on 10/11/08 against Western Michigan at UB Stadium...Ike Nduka had a career high 172 yards rushing on 22 attempts...the last 100-yard game by a Bull was by James Starks with 136 yards on 24 attempts versus Kent State (11/28/08)...Nduka's performance of 172 yards ranks him 6th in Division 1-A history....A.J. Principe now has 32 field goals in his career, three shy of the school record...flanker Naaman Roosevelt moved into 10th in MAC career receptions with 233 and his 114 yards receiving is the 12th time he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in his career, moving him past Kali Watkins (1995-98) into second place all-time. He also now has 233 receptions (seven shy of school record)...QB Zack Maynard has thrown a touchdown in each of the Bulls' games this season...safety Sherrod Lott tied his career high with nine tackles...Shannon moved into 8th place with most career tackles with (281).