University at Buffalo coach Craig Cirbus said all week that lowly Division II West Chester was capable of pulling off an upset of the Bulls. Little did he know at the time that his fears would be realized.
Apparently still dazed by last week's 50-0 beating at Ohio University, UB was beaten by the Golden Rams, 30-27, before a stunned home crowd of 6,508.
Losing to a good Division I-A team like Ohio was one thing, but a loss to West Chester is a major setback for a Division I-AA program preparing to step up to the next level.
This is the same West Chester team that gave up 64 points in one half to Villanova and had been outscored, 124-33, in three losses. However, the Golden Rams (1-3) outplayed the Bulls (2-3) for most of the afternoon.
"It's really hard to take," said linebacker Londell Young. "We didn't take this team for granted. Yeah, we should win, but just because they're at the Division II level, there's no difference in talent. It just means they don't have as many scholarships. They're athletes just like us."
West Chester led the entire way, but UB almost made a miraculous comeback. Trailing, 30-13, in the fourth quarter, UB got a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Salisbury to wide receiver Drew Haddad and a 7-yard scoring run by freshman tailback Reggie Cox after a successful onside kickoff.
The Bulls had a chance to tie it, but freshman kicker Scott Keller's 38-yard field-goal attempt was short and wide left as time expired.
The play-calling leading up to that kick will no doubt be criticized by UB fans.
With one timeout and 1:39 remaining, the Bulls got the ball at their 37. Salisbury, who completed 29 of 46 passes for 418 yards, was starting to find Haddad (nine catches, 143 yards) and Kali Watkins (10 for 125) with regularity.
A pass interference call moved the ball to West Chester's 47 but instead of trying to score a touchdown, Cirbus chose to put the game in the hands of Keller, who had already missed a 27-yarder and an extra-point attempt.
An angry crowd roared its disapproval when Cirbus called a run play that lost a yard and forced him to burn his last timeout with 39 seconds left.
After a conservative pass completion, another run netted a minimal gain but, more importantly, took at least 15 seconds off the clock before Salisbury could set up and down the ball. A 12-yard completion to Watkins set up the game-tying field-goal try that didn't come close.
"I called all the plays and I called every one that I felt would be a positive, ground-gainer for us," Cirbus explained. "We didn't have too far to get into field-goal range. I felt good about the last drive. We moved the ball and we got to where we wanted to be."
UB lost this game in the fourth quarter with two turnovers inside West Chester's 15-yard line.
The first came when backup tailback David Hinson was hit by defensive end Tom Burnley and fumbled. West Chester linebacker Marcellus Simmons scooped up the loose ball and returned it a school-record 90 yards for a touchdown to give the Golden Rams a 30-13 lead with 12:31 left.
A second drive ended at the West Chester 15 when Salisbury's pass was tipped by defensive end Mark Burns and intercepted by inside linebacker Ben Tonon.
Down 10 points at halftime, the Bulls had a chance to grab momentum in the third quarter after Salisbury's 37-yard touchdown pass to Hinson on fourth-and-3 cut the deficit to 17-13.
However, West Chester regained control, capping a 70-yard, 12-play drive with a 1-yard run, fourth-down by quarterback Mike Mitros to go up, 23-13, after the missed extra point.
"Any time you can beat a Division I-AA, team it is big for the program," said West Chester coach Rick Daniels, whose team earned its first win over a Division I-AA opponent since 1992. "But I have to give credit to these kids. They're pretty resilient, and this week we put it all together."
Thanks to Salisbury's passing numbers, UB gained 518 total yards. But it was offset by West Chester's ability to keep the Bulls' defense off balance with a nice mix of running and passing.
Mitros (22 of 38, 196 yards) and tailback Thomas Fulton (138 yards rushing on 31 carries) had career days for the Golden Rams, who finished with 350 combined yards.
"We were prepared for a 50-50 type of attack and they balanced it," Cirbus said. "Their sprint draw worked very, very effectively. When we came with perimeter pressure, they were able to run inside. And when we tightened it down, they were able to break contain in the passing game. They did an excellent job."
It doesn't get any easier for the Bulls as they travel to Connecticut (3-0) next Saturday.