BUFFALO, NY – The University at Buffalo football team dropped a second straight heartbreaking game, losing a second half double-digit lead in a 30-29 loss to Bowling Green in a Mid-American Conference East Division clash. The loss spoiled a breakout performance by freshman tailback Jeffvon Gill, who rushed for 172 yards on 23 carries after being pressed into duty when the Bulls' top two tailbacks were hurt.
The Bulls led 29-16 entering the fourth quarter, but could not hold on to the lead as the Falcons scored two touchdowns, including the game-winning on an 18-yard pass from Tyler Sheehan to Freddie Barnes, the nation's leading receiver.
The Bulls looked like they might have put the game away just before that. Bowling Green had driven to the Bulls' four yard line down six points (29-23), when linebacker Josh Copelandbroke up Sheehan's fourth-down pass at the goal line to preserve the lead. Starting at the four yard line, the Bulls appeared ready to close the game out after picking up a pair of first downs. Zach Maynard, who was 13-of-27 passing for 149 yards and rushed for 38 yards on 10 carries, scrambled for nine yards to pick up the first down. Gill then broke off a 24-yard run over midfield that put him over the 170-yard mark. However, on third-and-three Maynard misfired on a pass to Naaman Roosevelt and, after a 15-yard penalty for kick-catching interference, the Falcons drove 75 yards for the winning score.
The Bulls were hurt by penalties and special teams miscues in the game. Buffalo was penalized 10 times for 123 yards and had two crucial punts blocked which led directly to 14 points for Bowling Green.
"Special teams hurt us," said head coach Turner Gill. "Just some simple things where we didn't execute what we were told to do on the football field. That cost us to have two blocked punts. Offensively, you have to get some points in the second half. With an explosive offense like they have you cannot settle with not getting points in the second half. And defensively, you've gotta be able to stop them. We stopped them for a little while but you've gotta be able to do it the whole game."
The Bulls started extremely fast in the game. En route to racking up 302 yards of offense in the first half, the Bulls led 21-13 at halftime. Buffalo took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards for a score to set the tone. Maynard hit Brett Hamlin for 30 yards on the game's first play, had a 19-yard completion to tight end Michael Marr and the Bulls capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown run by Ike Nduka. Nduka was hurt on UB's next drive and did not return.
After a BG touchdown to tie the game, Buffalo struck again. The Bulls appeared to have taken a 10-7 lead on a field goal, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave UB a first down and the Bulls took full advantage. Tailback Mario Henry burst in from two yards out to put UB up 14-7 with 13:26 to go in the half.
Again the Falcons rebounded, cutting the lead to 14-13 on a one-yard TD run by Willie Geter, but missed the PAT and trailed 14-13 with 6:16 to go in the half. On the next possession, UB drove 81 yards on nine plays to take a 21-13 lead into the half. Gill had a 24-yard carry to move the ball to the BG 18-yard line, and on the next play, Maynard hit tight end Jesse Rack on a post pattern from 18 yards out for Rack's sixth touchdown catch of the season, tied for the team lead.
In the second half, the Bulls took advantage of a Falcons' special teams miscue. Punter John Rachuna drilled a high 46-yard kick that Geter muffed, with the ball recovered by seniorAlex Pierre at the Falcons' five-yard line. One play later, Gill went off left tackle to paydirt and when Maynard ran in for the two-point conversion, the Bulls led 29-16 and appeared headed for victory.
However, the crucial play of the game would come early in the fourth quarter. After being stopped at their own 41 yard line, Rachuna had his second punt blocked, with the Falcons recovering at the UB 17 yard line. Six plays later, Sheehan took the ball over the goal line on a quarterback draw and the momentum changed hands for a final time.
The Bulls defense, which played well for most of the game, got another big game from freshman Steven Means. The Buffalo native had a career-best five tackles, including his team-high fifth sack. Cornerback Domonic Cook had eight tackles to lead a UB defense that had six tackles for loss. Junior safety Davonte Shannon had his second interception of the season, returning it 30 yards in the second half.
The Bulls will send out their senior class next Tuesday night when they host Ohio at 7 pm in a game televised nationally on ESPN2.
BULL-etins: This was the seventh meeting between the teams, with Bowling Green leading 5-2 after Tuesday's win...the Bulls' last win at UB Stadium was also their first since returning to Division I-A play in 2000, when UB won 20-17... Ike Nduka scored his fifth rushing touchdown this season in the first quarter...tonight's game is the first time the Bulls have scored a touchdown on their opening offensive possession since Pittsburgh (9/12)...Naaman Roosevelt's 47th consecutive game with a catch is second in the nation behind Bryan Anderson (Central Michigan) who has 49...Mario Henry scored his third rushing touchdown this season in the second quarter...Jeffvon Gill recorded new career highs in attempts (23), yards rushing (172), long run (33) and touchdowns (his first)...John Mackey Award candidate Jesse Rack caught his sixth touchdown pass this season to tie for the team lead with Naaman Roosevelt...Zach Maynard has thrown a touchdown pass in all nine games this season...Davonte Shannon registered his second interception of the season and sixth of his career.