DeKALB, IL – Too many critical mistakes and a stout Northern Illinois defense spelled the difference as the Bulls dropped a 45-14 Mid-American Conference football game on Saturday afternoon before 21,230 fans at Huskie Stadium.
Buffalo committed two turnovers, had a punt blocked and was tackled deep in their own territory after a fumble on a punt in the game. That was too much for the UB defense to handle as the Huskies pulled away from a seven-point halftime lead for the win to improve to 5-2 and 3-0 in conference play. Buffalo fell to 2-4 and 1-1 in league play.
The Bulls defense, which was on the field for 45 plays in the first half alone, showed signs of fatigue in the second half as NIU scored on their first two possessions – a field goal and two-yard touchdown by Chad Spann – to open up a 31-14 lead and the Huskies had control from there.
Northern had a huge advantage in both time of possession and total plays (76-59) which wore down UB in the second half. Offensively, the Bulls struggled throughout the game, gaining a season-low 250 yards and completing just nine passes on the day.
"Northern is a very good football team and that was evident today," said head coach Jeff Quinn. "Very disappointing for us and unacceptable the way we came here and played. It's a four quarter game and that's what you have to keep in mind – that's certainly the mark of a very good football team and we haven't been able to quite finish games in the second half yet.
"It was very disappointing production on offense today, we just couldn't get any rhythm with Jerry (Davis) today, but that has a lot to do with how well Northern played. We are going to play the best players that give us the best chance to win and I'm going to look at every position and every player knows that from me."
Despite the loss, the UB defense made several key plays and stops, including forcing two interceptions, one that went for a score. Senior Davonte Shannon led the way with 14 tackles, while sophomore defensive end Steven Means recorded a career-high nine tackles and linebacker Raphael Akobundu added eight. Senior safety Domonic Cook had another outstanding game with seven tackles, including three for losses and the third interception of the season.
The Bulls defense, which came into the game ranked 25th in the nation in total defense, came up big on Northern's first possession. The Huskies took over at the UB 30-yard line after a short punt into a stiff breeze.
After moving the ball inside the UB 10-yard line, the UB defensive end duo of Jerry Housey and Steven Means through tailback Chad Spann for a two-yard loss on second down and senior cornerback Josh Thomas broke up a pass at the goal line on third down. NIU's kicker then missed a field goal to keep the game scoreless.
The Huskies got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter after a key special teams miscue by the Bulls. Punter Jacob Schum was tackled after bobbling a snap inside the UB 10-yard line. The Huskies took advantage when quarterback Chandler Harnish hit Landon Cox for a 10-yard touchdown on third and goal with 11:58 left in the first half.
Special teams continued to plague the Bulls as on the ensuing kickoff, the ball was bobbled and fallen at the UB 12-yard line. After three downs, Buffalo was forced to punt from its own end zone and had the kick blocked, rolling dead at the UB 20-yard line.
Amazingly, the UB defense stood up and stoned the Huskies again. Senior safety Domonic Cook threw Akeem Daniels for a two-yard loss and provided coverage on a third down incompletion. NIU was forced into a 25-yard field goal which they missed to keep the score 7-0.
Then the UB defense took matters into their own hands by scoring the Bulls' first points of the game. Linebacker Khalil Mack hit Harnish as he was attempting to throw and defensive end Gordon DuBois picked it off and ran 27 yards for his first career score. After the PAT, UB had tied it 7-7 with 7:32 to go in the second quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Huskies drove to the UB 17-yard line, before Cook ended the drive with his third interception of the season in the end zone.
However, just two plays later, Buffalo would give the ball right back at its 30-yard line when Branden Oliver fumbled after picking up a first down.
That miscue set off a scoring explosion that saw 21 points scored in the final five minutes of the first half. NIU regained the lead when Harnish hit Willie Clark on a 25-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone.
On the next possession, Buffalo turned the ball over again, as Davis was intercepted and the ball was returned to the Bulls' five-yard line. Three plays later Chad Spann scored from one yard out to put the Huskies up 21-7 with 1:10 left.
However, the Bulls entered halftime with momentum after one of the longest scoring plays in UB's Mid-American Conference history. Davis faked an out pattern and went up top to Marcus Rivers for an 81-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline with just :31 left in the half. Buffalo went to intermission trailing, 21-14.
However, the powerful NIU offense proved too much and the Bulls' offense never did get untracked.
Buffalo will host Temple next Saturday at 12 noon as part of Homecoming weekend festivities.
• Linebacker Jaleel Verser recorded his first career sack on the final play of the first quarter. Verser started for the second straight week at outside linebacker.
• Redshirt freshman tight end Jake Reeder got the first start of his career in the game.
• Defensive end Jerry Housey returned to the UB starting lineup after missing four of the first five games to injury.
• Jerry Davis' 81-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Rivers was the longest of Davis' career and the longest since a 75-yard touchdown from Davis to Naaman Roosevelt against Ohio last year.
• The 81-yard touchdown reception was the longest by the Bulls since Terrance Breux recorded an 86-yard touchdown from Chris Moore on Oct. 2, 2004.
• The interception return by a touchdown by Gordon DuBois was the first by Buffalo since Mike Newton's 50-yarder for a score in the MAC opener at Temple on Sept. 8, 2007.
• Defensive end Steven Means set a new career high in tackles with seven in the first half alone. Means finished the game with nine tackles.
• Jerry Davis had a 20-yard rush for a first down in the second half, marking the longest carry of his career.
• With his 16 tackles, Davonte Shannon moved into third place in total tackles (391), passing Pete Conley, and into second place in solo stops with six more to give him 222. He moved past J.J. Gibson who recorded 220 solos.
• With his interception, Domonic Cook moved into third place alone with a total of 33 passes defended in his career, breaking a tie with current Indianapolis Colts safety Mike Newton.
• Freshman quarterback Alex Zordich saw the first action of his career and completed 2-of-3 passes for 19 yards and ran five times for 23 yards on UB's final possession.
• Buffalo's defense has now recorded six interceptions in its last three games – including two each by Domonic Cook and Davonte Shannon.