BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – The University at Buffalo failed to score on three plays from inside the 4-yard line in the final 9 seconds Friday and saw its comeback bid fall just short at Bowling Green.
A miserable Bulls season ended with a 27-19 defeat to the Falcons in the battle for last place in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference.
“I think where the game ended is kind of the story of our season,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “It’s showing flashes and getting close but not good enough.”
Not nearly good enough, for sure. UB finished 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the MAC. The only UB loss that was by seven points or fewer was the season-opener to lower-division Albany. The average margin of defeat in the seven MAC losses was 21.5 points.
Leipold, the former six-time Division III national championship coach, is 7-17 in two seasons at UB and is under contract for four more years. He did not recruit UB’s senior, junior or redshirt freshman classes. But the 2016 season was a bigger step back than anyone at UB expected. Leipold has a lot of work to do to keep building the roster.
The next several weeks will determine the fallout from the disappointing campaign. The assistant coach most under the scrutiny of alumni and fans is offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki.
UB averaged just 16.5 points a game, its fewest in six years and a total that ranks 126th out of 128 teams in the nation. UB ranked 11th out of 12 in the MAC in yards gained and last in passing yards.
To the Bulls’ credit, they did not run for the bus after suffering wide defeats the past three weeks.
UB trailed, 14-12, at halftime and mounted a fourth-quarter rally.
Quarterback Grant Rohach, the graduate student subbing for injured Tyree Jackson, threw for a UB season-high 334 yards on 20 of 35 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Rohach hit Marcus McGill with a 52-yard catch and run to set up a 7-yard TD pass to Jamarl Eiland. It pulled UB within eight points with 5:58 left.
UB defensive end Demone Harris forced a fumble that UB recovered at its own 22 with 1:43 left.
Rohach drove the Bulls 77 yards, hitting Eiland for 14 yards to the Falcons’ 1. With 9 seconds left, Rohach made a hurried fake handoff and was tackled for a 2-yard loss. With 4 seconds left, Rohach threw just a tad too low for tight end Mason Schreck at the goal line. With 1 second left, Roach’s final pass over the middle for Schreck was too inside and out of reach.
“I looked at him right in the eye and said I’m coming to you,” Rohach said on the final play. “That last play was a miscommunication on my part. I thought he was going more vertical, and he did the right thing running to the corner. It was a mental error on me. I wish I could have put it up there and given him a chance.”
UB lost for several other reasons. Its defense gave up 346 rushing yards and allowed Bowling Green to hold the ball for 35:57. Rohach was sacked six times, with several of the takedowns foiling promising drives. And the Bulls committed two third quarter turnovers in Bowling Green territory, one on a sack of Rohach and one a fumble by Jordan Johnson.
“I’m disappointed in the loss,” Leipold said. “We battled to the very end. We had some opportunities. We had opportunities in the third quarter, turned the ball over. . . . All that said. I’m proud of the way we battled. We talked about playing to the end. We did.”
“That’s what coach Leipold and the staff were preaching all week,” said UB linebacker Khalil Hodge. “Regardless of the records of both teams we were coming out here to get a win. We prepared like we do every week, just like we did for Boston College. We wanted to send our seniors out on a high note. That was our outlook.”
“I believe it humbled everybody,” receiver Jacob Martinez said of the season. “Next year we’re not going to want that. So going into the offseason I think guys are going to work twice as hard as they’ve ever worked before because they don’t want this feeling again. It’s a terrible feeling. We wish we could have sent the seniors out better, but all we can do is grow from it.”
“We’ve got a young team,” Hodge said. “This offseason, like coach Leipold just said, we’re going to keep that 1 yard in the back of our heads the entire offseason and just grind. We’re close. Our record didn’t show it but I feel like we’re close.”