KENT, OH - The University at Buffalo 2009 senior class, so crucial to the rise of the Bulls to respectability and a Mid-American Conference championship last year, finished their careers in style as kicker A.J. Principe booted the game-winning field goal with five seconds left to lift UB to a 9-6 win at Kent State to close the season.
Not only did Principe boot the game-winner, he also became the school's all-time leading scorer on the kick with 224 total points. The last three points sent Buffalo's 16 seniors out the right way after the offense embarked on a game-winning 63-yard drive in 11 plays to leave Principe, who accounted for all of UB's points on the day, to kick a 22-yard field goal. The win gave Buffalo a 5-7 record on the season and a 3-5 mark in the MAC the third straight season that UB has had three or more league wins after going their first eight years in the conference without reaching that mark.
"I'm proud of the way these guys battled for four quarters today against a good football team," said head coach Turner Gill, "and extremely proud of this senior class and what they have meant to our program. During their time here they have built tradition and shown to the country that the Buffalo football program is one to be reckoned with, now and in the future." In a defensive struggle, the Bulls were dominant, holding Kent State (5-7, 4-4 MAC) to just 159 yards of total offense, while keeping the Golden Flashes out of the end zone the entire game.
The defense was led by junior safety Davonte Shannon, who had a team-high eight tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss. The Bulls recorded four sacks in the game, with all four of them coming from their front four in their best performance of the season. Buffalo racked up 10 tackles for loss in the game, including 2.5 by junior defensive end Bruno Lapointe, who also recorded the first sack of his career and broke up a pass.
The UB offense was led for the second straight week by tailback Brandon Thermilus, who bulldozed his way to 123 yards on 29 carries. Quarterback Zach Maynard threw for 181 yards, including 86 yards on five catches to senior receiverBrett Hamlin.
The first half was a story of missed opportunities for Buffalo. The Bulls were in the red zone three times in the first half but could only muster three points out of it.
The Bulls squandered a pair of scoring chances in the first quarter. Behind strong running by Thermilus, who had 35 yards on six carries on the drive, the Bulls moved inside the Kent 15-yard line on their second possesion. However, Maynard fumbled while trying to scramble with Kent's Dana Brown recovering at the Kent State 22-yard line.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Hamlin was a one-man highlight reel on Buffalo¹s second long scoring opportunity. Hamlin made a diving catch near the UB sideline for a 32-yard gain on third-and-10 and then grabbed a 25-yard pass to the Kent 21-yard line. However, the drive stalled and the Bulls failed to score when they attempted a fake field goal and Principe was stopped two yards short of the first down marker early in the second quarter.
The Bulls got on the board first after taking advantage of a special teams miscue by the Golden Flashes. Sherrod Lott recovered a muffed punt at the Kent State 42-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Maynard hit flanker Terrell Jackson in the right flat, and Jackson weaved his way across the field for a 35-yard gain. However, the Bulls could not get in the end zone and Principe banged through a 24-yard field goal with 5:23 left on the clock in the first half.
The Bulls defense was outstanding throughout the first half, allowing just 68 total yards.
The Golden Flashes tied the game late in the third quarter after the Bulls' defense stiffened. Freddy Cortez capped the drive with a 39-yard field goal with just 15 seconds left in the third quarter after the Flashes got their running game untracked with 57 yards rushing on that drive.
The Bulls would snap the tie on a 66-yard drive in 10 plays early in the fourth quarter. The big play was a 36-yard draw by Thermilus and a 14-yard pass from Maynard to Hamlin to the KSU five-yard line. However, the Bulls could not punch it in from there and Principe booted a 24-yard field goal which made him the school's all-time leader in field goals with 7:51 remaining to give Buffalo a 6-3 lead.
However, on the ensuing kickoff, Kent¹s Dri Archer returned the kickoff 77 yards to the Buffalo 13-yard line. The Bulls defense rose up and stuffed the Flashes, forcing a 26-yard field goal that Cortez drilled through to tie the game at 6-6 with 5:25 left.
Buffalo's offense, and its senior class, would have the final say, however. Maynard, denied a touchdown throw for the first time all season, became a running threat, racking up 20 yards on four carries to keep the chains moving. Thermilus blasted off a 15-yard gain on first-and-10 at the KSU 21-yard line and from there the Bulls positioned themselves for the game-winning field goal. Principe was true from 22 yards to hit a game-winning field goal for the third time in his career.
BULL-etins: The zero points allowed in the first half was the first time since Turner Gill¹s first game as head coach, versus Temple on 8/31/06, that UB shut out a team in the first half...Buffalo limited Kent State to a total of two first downs in the first half...for the game, Buffalo limited Kent to a season-low 159 yards of offense...Buffalo won for the third straight time at Dix Stadium and it was Buffalo's fourth win in the last five meetings between the teams...the all-time series between the teams is now tied a 9-9...junior A.J. Principe tied the career field goal record in the first half by drilling the 35th field goal of his career, tying Dallas Pelz (2000-03). He would go on to break it with 7:51 remaining when he snapped a 3-3 tie with his 36th career field goal...redshirt freshman defensive tackle Terry Peden recorded the first sack of his career in the third quarter...cornerback Domonic Cook had a 20-yard punt return in the second quarter, the second-longest of his career...junior defensive end Bruno LaPointe recorded his first career sack in the second half...safety Davonte Shannon finished the season with 97 tackles giving him 341 in his career. Heading into his senior year he is 105 tackles short of the all-time school record. His forced fumble in the game gave him five for this career, ranking him tied for sixth all-time...the win was the 20th of head coach Turner Gill¹s career at Buffalo, becoming just the fourth coach to reach that number. Gill is now 20-30 in his four seasons.