STORRS, Conn. -- The number alone was arresting enough -- 18 consecutive losses on the road -- a figure which pointed to frustration, ineptitude and, at times, hopelessness for the University at Buffalo football program.
And now it's gone.
UB at long last came out of the shadows Saturday to stun Connecticut, 37-20, finally providing hints that Jim Hofher's rebuilding project is taking positive steps forward, and leaving everyone connected with the team in a happy state of mind.
"I don't think you can put words into a smile, can you?" said senior defensive end Chris Shelly, who finished with seven tackles. "Everyone was so confident today, we knew that we were going to win. We thought we were the better football team."
Following his first win as Bulls coach, Hofher was handed the game ball, a souvenir perhaps soon to be painted in school colors and placed proudly on a shelf in his office.
But there won't be enough room on the ball to describe how the Bulls overcame a 13-3 deficit to score 34 unanswered points and silence a crowd of 16,517 at Memorial Stadium.
No room for how UB's offensive line created enough room for Marquis Dwarte to dart for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
No room to tell how Joe Freedy pierced the UConn secondary for 218 yards on 20 of 36 completions.
In the process, a number of negative marks that hovered over the program like a dark cloud have disappeared. UB (1-2) hadn't won a road game since beating Division I-AA Lafayette on Sept. 18, 1998, and it was the first time UB defeated a I-A opponent on the road since Boston College in 1969. The school didn't play I-A football from 1971-98.
It marked the end of a four-game losing streak dating back to last season, as well as a five-game losing streak to the Huskies. In their last two trips here, the Bulls were shut out, 78-0.
The Bulls are starving for respect and Hofher has driven them so hard to get it that encouraging results were bound to show. It happened on Saturday.
The blowout started with Dwarte, a sophomore tailback whose second start of the season evolved into a dream game. He pounded away at the exhausted Huskies defense for three touchdowns, the most since Derrick Gordon pulled off the same trick against Central Michigan in October, 1999. Still, it was Freedy who set the table up nicely.
The fifth-year senior, who was in danger of losing his job to redshirt freshman Randall Secky, completed 16 of 27 passes in the second half alone, as he consistently turned the UConn secondary into vapor with quick out patterns to junior wideout Maurice Bradford and junior tight end Chad Bartoszek.
"What he looked like and what he showed was a guy who's played 25 football games in college," Hofher said. "That's what he looked like to me."
Meanwhile, UConn (0-3) took pleasure in only one bright moment on offense in the first half, but it was one that could have killed UB's spirit.
With the Huskies leading, 6-3, with 18 seconds remaining before halftime, quarterback Keron Henry locked in on split end Neil Wilson on a post pattern, and Wilson made a sensational catch in traffic for a 54-yard touchdown, giving the Huskies a 13-3 lead.
"We had to understand that the score at the end (of the half) was a big play, but it was one play," Hofher said. "It wasn't a methodical drive where we were getting destroyed."
But it was methodical drives and key defensive plays that put UB's comeback in motion.
With 12:36 left in the third quarter, UB senior linebacker Duane Williams deflected a pass into the hands of teammate Ryan Buttles.
Then, UB marched back into the game with its most comprehensive drive of the season: a 76-yard drive that ended when Dwarte scampered in from 8 yards out. A sack by free safety Craig Rohlfs flushed out UConn's next drive, and Dallas Pelz knocked in his second field goal of the game to tie the contest at 13 with 4:45 remaining in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Freedy carved up UConn with crisp, short passes which opened up the running game for Dwarte. The Bulls took the lead for good with 12:50 remaining when Dwarte scored from the 1.
Buffalo tacked on three more touchdowns to make a statement before UConn scored on a fluke play when the Huskies' Cliff Hill returned a fumble recovery 72 yards for a touchdown and an inconsequential UConn celebration.
Two minutes later, UB kicked off the celebration that really mattered.
The Bulls host Central Michigan at 7 p.m. Saturday at UB Stadium.
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