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AFTER 18 DEFEATS, BULLS SPELL RELIEF F-R-E-E-D-Y

UB's case of football heartburn, which lasted over parts of three seasons, found blessed relief late Saturday night in a comeback victory over heavily favored Bowling Green.

The soothing antacid came in a variety of parts, but none more important than the contribution of Joe Freedy, the Bulls' accidental quarterback.

The junior from Bethel Park, Pa., passed for the Bulls' first two touchdowns and supervised the last-chance 80-yard drive that began with only 3 minutes, 31 seconds remaining.

"We looked up at the clock and everybody knew it was our last chance," explained Freedy. "We didn't change anything in our approach. We stuck with what we had been doing. We just executed better."

One false move and UB would be sharing the nation's longest Division I-A losing streak, 19 consecutive games, with Ball State this morning. Either the Bulls would walk off the field with that familiar burning in their chests, or they would celebrate in the rain at midfield.

Thanks in large part to Freedy, who refused to wilt with an unwelcome record staring at his teammates, there were no false moves on the critical march. He completed three first-down passes on the drive, the most important of which was a 15-yarder to tight end Brian Shaughnessy, who made a leaping catch at the Bowling Green 49.

But Freedy's leadership involved far more than statistics. Not once did he bear the appearance of a quarterback who had never started in a winning game.

Even when nature seemed to conspire against the Bulls, when on two separate occasions torrents of rain came down when they gained possession of the football, Freedy was the same efficient, composed field leader.

"Rain wasn't that much of a factor," he insisted.

Until that final telling drive, the Bulls had no ground game of consequence. Freedy had to pass. There wasn't much of an alternative. He demonstrated that he was up to the task on the Bulls' second possession, when he picked apart the Falcons' pass defense on a steely, near-flawless march.

Freedy's performance was especially admirable when it's remembered that his two turnovers, on an interception and fumble, in the fourth quarter were central to UB's 24-21 loss to Connecticut in its home opener last week. Up to that point, Freedy had played well against UConn but there was no praise from his coach, Craig Cirbus.

That's what makes Freedy the accidental quarterback. Cirbus seems reluctant to give him much encouragement. In fact, he barely mentioned the quarterback in his postgame remarks after UB's first victory over a I-A opponent since Nehru jackets were in style.

Cirbus wouldn't even make a commitment to Freedy when the Bulls opened August training, despite the absence of any other experienced quarterback on his roster. If he praises Freedy, it must be in private.

Nevertheless, Freedy doesn't seem to let it bother him. At least he didn't Saturday after he completed 24 of 38 passes for 183 yards. It wasn't a gaudy performance, just a winning one when UB needed it desperately.

Freedy wasn't taking any bows for himself, either.

"Give the credit to the defense," he said. "The defense and our offensive line. Every time we came off the field, somebody from the defense would say something to me like, 'We'll hold 'em,' or, 'We'll make it three and out.'

"That really unified us."

The Bulls played as if they were unified. They did not look anything like a team that had been dragged through that long string of losses. They looked like a team that had suffered enough and was committed to ending the suffering.

When the defense stormed after Bowling Green quarterback Ricky Schneider on the Falcons' last possession in the final minute, it was clear this was not going to be a case of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, which has happened at UB Stadium in the past.

When the final whistle made the victory official, Cirbus trotted toward midfield in search of his vanquished opponent, Gary Blackney. He never made it. His starting right tackle, Tim Hedges, intercepted Cirbus and tossed him over his shoulder like a Falcon running back.

Hedges almost dropped the coach, but I doubt if he'll have to run laps in the wake of this game.

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