KALAMAZOO, MI (UB Athletics) – The University at Buffalo football team had deja vu all over again in a 34-31 overtime loss to Western Michigan at Waldo Stadium in a Mid-American Conference class on Saturday.
The Bulls squandered a lead with less than five minutes remaining and lost in overtime for the second straight season to the Broncos in a hard-fought game that had dozens of momentum swings. The Bulls trailed the entire game until tailback Ike Nduka – who matched his career-high with 172 yards – dashed 56 yards with 5:16 remaining to give the Bulls a 28-24 lead. That score erased what had been a 10-point second half deficit and seemingly had the Bulls (3-5, 1-3 MAC) in position to get a huge road victory and set up a wild end of regulations and overtime that saw both teams score in the final two minutes before WMU’s John Potter kicked a 28-yard field goal to win it in overtime.
“We are disappointed but our guys will be resilient and we’ll come back ready to play another football game,” said head coach Turner Gill. “We had our chances to win the game on offense, defense and special teams, but Western Michigan made more plays than we did. They are a good football team and made the plays to win. I still think we have a good football team, too, we just have to take advantage of the opportunites we have. Games like this always come down to a few plays and Western made them.”
Nduka’s third touchdown of the game brouight the Bulls back from a 10-point deficit for the second time in the second half. Trailing 24-14, UB climbed back into the game when senior flanker Brett Hamlin made an incredible, fully outstreched 33-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Zach Maynard with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
Buffalo’s defense, despite losing five significant players to injury, forced Western to punt on three straight possessions, setting up Nduka’s career-long run. Nduka was a game-time decision with an ankle injury from last week, but was pressed into full-time action when starter Mario Henry hurt his ankle early in the game.
Cornerbacks Josh Thomas, Kendric Hawkins and Joe Petit, as well as defensive lineman Willie Moseley and safety Chris Storr all left the game for Buffalo and did not return.
“Defensively a few guys got banged up and we’ll have to see if they can come back next week in the next few days,” said Gill. “We were somewhat limited with our calls, because we had so many new guys in there, but the guys that had to come in and play gave us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Like last year, however, the Bulls’ couldn’t protect a late leader. The Broncos, behind quarterback Tim Hiller, who threw for 350 yards, marched down the fied and capped a go-ahead touchdown drive with a three-yard run by Brandon West with 1:58 remaining to give the Broncos a 31-28 lead.
The Bulls weren’t finished. Maynard, who completed 26-of-51 passes for 327 yards, led the Bulls down the drive in a two-minute offense. Maynard completed 8-of-11 passes for 71 yards, including several second-effort plays by Hamlin, who finished with 10 catches for 136 yards. That would set up junior kicker A.J. Principe to boot a 28-yard field goal to tie the game at 31-31 on the game’s final play of regulation.
However, in overtime, it was all Broncos. WMU forced UB backwards a yard, and then two straight incompletions,the last one just out of the reach of tight end Jesse Rack, who had a career-best 89 yards receiving on five catches. That left UB to turn to kicker John Rachuna – attempting his first field goal as Bull – from 43 yards out into a strong wind. The kick was wide right. Rachuna, who has the stronger leg of UB’s kickers, also took over the UB punting chores for most of the game and excelled, including a career-best 71-yard boot.
The Bulls opened the second half with an impressive scoring drive to cut into a 10-point halftime deficit. Maynard hit Naaman Roosevelt for a huge third-down conversion, before the sophomore quarterback turned to his legs. Maynard ripped off a 42-yard run – the longest of his career – to put the Bulls in scoring range, before Nduka scored his second touchdown of the game from two yards out. After an A.J. Principe PAT, the Bulls trailed 17-14 with 12:21 left in the third quarter.
The Bulls had put themselves in a hole right from the outset. Western Michigan opened the game with a big play as senior kickoff return dynamo Brandon West took the opening kickoff back 53 yards to the Bulls’ 46-yard line, where the Broncos mounted a drive that put the first points on the board. Hiller hit Ansel Ponder on a crossing pattern from 10 yards out to put the Broncos ahead, 7-0, with 10:40 to go in the first quarter. Hiller hit all five of his passes in the drive for 33 yards.
The Bulls tied the game with a momentum-changing turnover. After a UB punt on its first possession, the Broncos started at their own 14-yard line. On first down, West was thrown for a three-yard loss with cornerback Sherrod Lott forcing a fumble that was recovered by sophomomre Scott Pettigrew at the WMU 11-yard line. On the very next play, Nduka, who averaged 9.6 yards per carry (18 rushes for 172 yards), burst threw a huge hole behind center Josh Violanti for an 11-yard score. After the PAT, the game was tied with 7:17 left in the first quarter.
The Broncos retook the lead by driving 86 yards on 10 plays, converting a pair of third down conversions, and capping the drive with an 11-yard pass from Hiller to Ponder for their second hookup for a score in the game. They extended the lead to 17-7 on a 28-yard field goal with 13:01 left in the half.
The Bulls failed to cash a golden opportunity to cut into the Western lead on the ensuing drive. A career-long 50-yard run by Nduka got the Bulls moving, before Maynard connected with Hamlin for a 24-yard hookup to the Broncos six-yard line. However, four cracks from there were unsuccessful, including a fourth-down pass from the one-yard line that was intercepted in the end zone.
The Bulls and Broncos both squandered scoring chances late in the first half. Defensive end Jerry Housey forced a fumble by flanker Robert Arnheim that was recovered by Scott Pettigrew at midfield. However, Maynard was intercepted on a third down pass that glanced off the hands of Hamlin and Jamail Berry returned it to the UB 10-yard line. However, the UB defense stiffened with defensive end Bruno LaPointe pressuring Hiller into an incompletion on third down. The Broncos botched the field goal snap and John Potter missed a 22-yard field goal that left the score 17-7 at halftime.
Defensively, the Bulls got big games from linebackers Justin Winters and Pettigrew. Winters had a career-best 16 tackles, while Pettigrew had two fumble recoveries and two pass breakups. Pettigrew now has three fumble recoveries on the season and has also forced two fumbles. The Bulls broke up eight passes in the game, including one from corner Sherrod Lott, who had a career-best 10 tackles, including two for losses.
The Bulls will be off next Saturday and will host MAC East rival Bowling Green on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at UB Stadium. Kickoff for the nationally televised game on ESPN2 will be at 7 pm.
BULL-etins: Western Michigan now leads the all-time series 5-0 and is 3-0 at Waldo Stadium against the Bulls…Brett Hamlin went over 100 yards receiving for the fourth time in his career, tying him with Gary Quatrani and Chaz Ahmed for ninth place all-time…receiver Naaman Roosevelt caught a pass in his 46th straight game, the second longest streak in the nation...with his eight catches in the game, Roosevelt moved into a fifth place tie with Miami’s Ryne Robinson (2003-06) with 258 career catches…tight end Jesse Rack, on the John Mackey Award (top tight end in the nation) list, had a career-best 89 yards receiving…with his two pass breakups, Domonic Cook moved into ninth all-time with 22 in his career…Zack Maynard’s 51 pass attempts are the most by a UB quarterback in its Division I-A history (and tied for fourth all-time). Drew Willy attempted 48 passes at Syracuse (10/20/07)…Hamlin’s 10 catches marked the third time this year a UB receiver has recorded double digit catches, and the second time Hamlin has done it (12 vs. Pittsburgh)…it was also the fifth straight game that UB has boasted a 100-yard receiver…with his field goal to tie the game, A.J. Principe became the second Bull to ever record 200 points scoring (200 on the nose), joining James Starks, the career leader with 222…Ike Nduka’s three touchdowns rushing marked the first time a Bull had done it since James Starks at Akron last year (11/13/08)…with his third 100-yard rushing game of the year, Nduka is now tied for 10th place in career 100-yard games with Josh Roth, Aaron Leeper, Marquis Dwarte and Derrick Gordon…the loss in overtime broke a three-game winning streak that the Bulls had enjoyed dating back to last year (Army, Akron and Bowling Green)…Justin Winters 16 tackles marked the first time a Bull has recorded 15 or more since Davonte Shannon had 15 vs. UConn in last year’s International Bowl…Buffalo’s struggles defensively on its opponents first drive continued. The Bulls have given up a touchdown on the opponents first drive in seven of their eight games this year…Sherrod Lott forced the third fumble of his career in the first quarter…the first quarter touchdown by Ike Nduka marked the third straight game the Bulls have tallied a rushing touchdown…Fred Branch recorded the first sack of his career in the first quarter…with his 33-yard scoring strike to Brett Hamlin in the third quarter, Zack Maynard threw a touchdown pass for the eighth consecutive game…punter John Rachuna’s first punt of his career traveled 71 yards, and for the day he averaged 48.2 yards and had two kicks downed inside the 20.