ATHENS, OH – Slow starts have plagued the University at Buffalo football team all season. Thursday night followed the same script, as Buffalo fell behind 21-0 in the first half on the road at Ohio.
However, the Bulls never stopped fighting, narrowing the margin to as close as 27-17 early in the fourth quarter, but ultimately could not overcome the deficit in a 34-17 Mid-American Conference loss at Peden Stadium.
The difference in the game came down to several one-on-one plays where OU won a number of battles for touchdown throws, while the Bulls had several key drops in the contest.
"We had opportunities, " said head coach Jeff Quinn. "We had a number of situations in this game where our players need to perform and make the plays, their kids did and we didn't. We have to secure tackles better, we have play the ball in the air better, all those things are factors as to why the game went their way and didn't go our way."
Freshman quarterback Alex Zordich played a major role in the UB running game, which accounted for 171 total yards before sacks are subtracted. Zordich rushed for a career-best 59 yards in the game, a number hurt severely by four sacks for negative 46 yards.
"We tried to feature both our running back and our quarterback in our running game," said Quinn. "We felt with this much man coverage that Alex would give us another aspect to move the chains and get us opportunities to score and I think we saw that."
While Zordich did damage with his feet, Ohio senior quarterback Boo Jackson hurt Buffalo with his arms and feet, throwing for a score, running for a score and catching a touchdown pass.
The Bulls' defense was paced by seniors Justin Winters and Davonte Shannon as well as sophomore Steven Means. Winters had a game-high 14 tackles while Shannon added 12 tackles, becoming the school record holder in solo tackles in the process. Shannon passed career tackles leader Craig Guest (1993-96) with five solo stops to give him 238 in his career. Shannon trails Guest on the all-time tackles chart by 32 tackles with three games left.
Means, meanwhile, had another outstanding game, racking up eight tackles, recovering a fumble and recording his first career interception in the first half.
Trailing 27-7 in the third quarter, the Bulls cut into the Ohio lead with a 34-yard field goal by A.J. Principe to cut the lead to 27-10 with 6:03 left in the third. It completed a drive that saw senior tailback Ike Nduka rip off a 12-yard run, while Zordich had a crucial 17-yard hookup with freshmen wideout Alex Neutz.
The score remained that way until early in the fourth quarter when sensational freshman linebacker Khalil Mack made another impact play. Mack sacked Jackson for a 10-yard loss, knocking the ball loose that Means recovered at the Ohio six-yard line.
Just one play later, Zordich ran off right guard untouched for the score to cut the lead to 27-17 with 12:10 left on the clock.
However, the Bobcats were able to retake control on a 71-yard, 10-play drive that saw Ohio convert a key third down and throw a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Terrence McRae on fourth-and-one that clinched the game.
The score became decidedly closer that it looked like it would be in the early going. The Bulls have yet to score a first quarter touchdown this season and Ohio rolled up 128 yards in the first quarter alone to seize control of the game from the outset.
The Bobcats took advantage of a miscue on the opening kickoff of the game, as Buffalo's kickoff sailed out of bounds, allowing OU to start at their own 40-yard line. Aided by a couple of big plays from quarterback Boo Jackson, including a 14-yard run on third-and-four, the Bobcats opening the scoring on a one-yard keeper by Jackson with 10:48 left in the opening quarter.
Buffalo's opening drive showed promise as well with Zordich running with tremendous will. The freshman quarterback had three carries for 27 yards, including a 15-yard run where he pushed the pile an additional eight yards. The drive eventually stalled at the Ohio 32-yard line, where John Rachuna attempted a 49-yard field goal that was wide left with 6:25 left on the clock in the first quarter.
The Bobcats extended their lead to 14-0 with some trickery. Backup quarterback Phil Bates took a pitchout and threw the ball back across the field go quarterback Boo Jackson for a 26-yard touchdown with 3:04 left in the first quarter.
The Bulls got on the board late in the second quarter on a drive led by Zordich. The freshman rushed for 21 yards on the drive, completed a 14-yard pass to Branden Oliver and capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown toss to Marcus Rivers in the left corner of the end zone with 3:06 left in the half.
Buffalo will host Ball State next Friday night at UB Stadium at 6 pm on a game televised nationally on ESPNU.
BULL-etins: Davonte Shannon had five solo tackles to bring his career total to 236 – breaking the school record of 233 held by Craig Guest (1993-96)...Steven Means had his first career interception in the first quarter…Means' interception marked the seventh straight game the Bulls picked off a pass and the ninth game overall this season…A.J. Principe's 34-yard field goal in the third quarter was his first field goal since the UCF game on Sept. 19…Justin Winters had a season-high 14 tackles in the game…Alex Zordich's 20 carries tied a season high by a UB player this season…Zordich had five runs of eight yards or more and three rushes of 10-plus yards...Zordich's rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter was UB's first fourth-quarter points of the season…After scoring one rushing touchdown in the first seven games of the season, Buffalo has run for a touchdown in each of the last two games.