The University at Buffalo finally managed to play a close game Saturday, but the end result was the same.
An interception in the final two minutes sealed the Bulls' fate as they fell to Massachusetts, 26-20, before 6,052 at UB Stadium.
The loss was the fifth straight for UB (2-6). While it wasn't a 50-point blowout like some of the others, Saturday's defeat was no less discouraging.
In fact, this one may have hurt more because the Bulls had plenty of opportunities to win.
"There's not a lot left to say," said UB coach Craig Cirbus, struggling to find a way to explain yet another disappointing outing. "All I said to them afterwards was there's one goal left in the three remaining weeks and that is to prove to this community, this university and to themselves what a University at Buffalo football team is all about. They haven't done that yet this year, but by golly we'll get that done in the next three weeks. I guarantee it."
The passing game rolled up impressive numbers again. For the third time this season, quarterback Chad Salisbury threw for more than 400 yards. He finished with 459, completing 30 of 51 passes, and three receivers all exceeded 100 yards: Drew Haddad (career-high 11 catches, 147 yards), Kali Watkins (nine for 128) and Jamie Gasparre (six for 144).
The aerial show gave Buffalo some hope early as Salisbury and Gasparre hooked up on touchdown passes of 48 and 63 yards for a 13-6 halftime lead.
However, the Bulls' inability to run the ball (67 yards) led to an over-reliance on the pass that UMass capitalized on.
After the Minutemen (2-5) scored twice on short runs by Marcel Shipp and Jim Pizano to go ahead, 19-13, the Bulls put together a drive in the fourth quarter that brought them to the UMass 5-yard line.
But Salisbury's third-down pass was tipped by free safety Bryan Mooney and intercepted 3 yards into the end zone by cornerback Tehran Hunter, who raced down the UB sideline for a touchdown to give the Minutemen a 26-13 lead with 9:26 left in the game.
UB mounted a rally behind Salisbury's arm as he tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Haddad, who made a nice one-handed grab as he fell out the back of the end zone.
The Bulls got the ball back after UMass failed to take advantage of a 62-yard return by Darryl Thomas on the ensuing kickoff. UMass kicker Andy Maclay missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Three completions gave UB a first down at UMass' 41-yard line, but Salisbury got greedy. Reading the play perfectly, Mooney stepped in front of a pass intended for Haddad and returned the interception 31 yards to the Buffalo 38 with 1:46 remaining to secure the win for the Minutemen.
"He was trying to make more happen than what was asked," Cirbus said of Salisbury. "We've been relying so much on the pass and today is an example of what happens when you create a (pass-only) personality. When you become that biased in your play selection, you're going to get interceptions and you're going to get turnovers."
Clearly, this is a team lacking in confidence. The Bulls had some bright moments, but they couldn't seem to sustain it over an entire game. And of course, five turnovers didn't help. UMass scored 19 points off those miscues.
Other than a couple of forced fumbles in the shadow of its goal line in the first half, the defense wasn't able to make any plays that would make a difference in the game.
"This whole season, somebody's had a mental breakdown on third down or at the goal line or on special teams or on defense," Salisbury said. "It's been a frustrating few weeks. We're upset right now, but as soon as we start game-week practice, the team gets focused again. We always try to bounce back."
The next opportunity is next Saturday when Hofstra comes to town for homecoming.