TOLEDO, Ohio — UB may have learned more about itself in defeat Tuesday night than it could have ever learned in a routine victory.
Down by 38 points early in the third quarter, the Bulls kept banging away behind quarterback Joe Licata’s record-setting passing performance and put a legitimate scare into Toledo before dropping a 51-41 slugfest at the Glass Bowl.
UB couldn’t have played more miserably early on and couldn’t have played much better after all appeared lost. With Licata throwing for a school-record 497 yards and four touchdowns, UB rallied to within 10 points with 48 seconds remaining and came within a failed two-point conversion of making it a one-touchdown game.
The rally came from the depths of despair. The Bulls trailed, 38-0, when Toledo’s big-play receiver, Bernard Reedy, caught his second long touchdown pass of the game 50 seconds into the second half. UB was being humiliated on national television. You had to wonder if the magnitude of this defeat would undermine the rest of its season.
But then ... up the Bulls rose, rolling up 470 second-half yards and 41 points as Licata went 24 of 36 for 382 yards. His 497-yard total eclipsed the school record of 490 yards by Cliff Scott at New Haven in 1992.
“I’ve seen that all year long with this team so I wasn’t surprised to know these kids would come out and respond,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said. “I give Toledo a lot of credit. They got on us quickly, but I was proud of the way our kids got out there in the second half.”
The loss probably has no effect on UB’s quest for the MAC East title and a appearance in the conference championship game, UB and Bowling Green are now 5-1 in the MAC and tied for the MAC East lead after BG dismantled Ohio Tuesday night. UB visits winless Miami next Tuesday while BG plays two-win Eastern Michigan in 10 days. If both triumph – and they’ll be heavy favorites – the Nov. 29 game at Ralph Wilson Stadium will decide the division. And, because of BG’s cakewalk over Ohio, that would have been the case no matter what transpired here.
The defeat ended UB’s longest in-season winning streak since 1897 at seven games and deprived it of the school’s first eight-game run since 1946-47.
Toledo (7-3, 5-1) came out like a team playing for its life, which it was. The Rockets needed a victory to maintain any hope of capturing the MAC West and they struck with a flourish, building a 31-0 halftime lead. They were carving up a UB defense that had kept three of the last four opponents out of the end zone. It looked like a major mismatch.
The Rockets rolled up 350 first-half yards to UB’s scant 131. Rockets running back Kareem Hunt had 148 of his 186 rushing yards before intermission. Toledo produced two touchdown drives of under a minute.
Everything changed after Reedy’s TD catch early in the third quarter. Licata, pressured much of the first half, shrugged it off and went to work in surgical fashion. The completions began piling up as UB moved down the field once, twice and a third time.
Alex Neutz finished with eight catches for 168 and two TDs – his school record-setting 29th and 30th of his career. Fred Lee caught eight balls for 110 yards and a TD. Tight end Jimmy Gordon produced five catches and a TD. It was a startling showing by an offense that has lived in the shadow of UB’s defensive might.
“The kid’s special in himself,” Neutz said of Licata. “He reads the defense well, he reads the field well. The O line started blocking for him real well, gave him time, and when that kid has time he can put the ball wherever he wants to.”
“The most important thing was the loss,” Licata said. “But the good thing about today is we have another one next week and you can’t turn one into two.”
The deficit was too much to overcome no matter how fervently the Bulls worked to wash it away.
“They caught us off-balance early with their up-tempo offense and we didn’t respond early enough,” cornerback Najja Johnson said. “We got to play better as a defense.”
UB was down, 48-21, when it made a game of it. Licata threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Neutz and a 36-yarder to Gordon. Toledo managed a field goal off a failed onsides kick before Anthony Taylor scored from 3 yards out with 48 seconds left. Had a two-point conversion pass succeeded the Bulls would have been within eight, making it a one-possession game. They didn’t see the ball again.
“We can’t beat ourselves up over this game,” Neutz said. “It’s over, we lost, we got to move on to next week.”