Losing happens with infuriating regularity at the University at Buffalo, but Saturday's 24-20 loss to Eastern Michigan will be remembered as more painful than most.
The setback at Rynearson Stadium was agonizing because this was a game that looked very winnable for the Bulls. They matched up well with the Eagles, who like UB were winless in Mid-American Conference play this season and start only had a handful of seniors. Eastern had struggled all season, with its lone victory over Southeast Missouri State of Division I-AA.
On this day, though, Eastern Michigan certainly didn't play like the team that was dismantled by 47 points at Maryland and shut out, 19-0, by Connecticut, the same team that UB hammered, 37-20, on Sept. 22. The Eagles scored 14 unanswered points after UB took a 20-10 lead, and the running game, led by freshman tailback C.R. Roberson, cranked out 225 yards.
The loss increased the possibility of UB going winless in the MAC for the second time in three years. The Bulls fell to 1-7 overall and 0-6 in conference play with Ohio and Akron remaining on the MAC schedule sandwiched around a game at Army on Nov. 10. They will be underdogs in each remaining game, and Saturday was perhaps UB's best chance of gaining a second win.
"We can't dwell on this," said sophomore tailback Marquis Dwarte, who rushed for 81 yards and scored a touchdown on an 11-yard reception from Joe Freedy. "This one's already in the bag, it's done, it's in the books. This game will have nothing to do with how we prepare for the next game. This one or the last five have nothing to do with how we prepare for Ohio."
Since the victory at UConn more than a month ago, the Bulls have lost their last five.
"It probably will be a little harder now," said senior defensive end Chris Shelly, who finished with two sacks. "But I have only three more games left, so now it's go time. I'm going to give every ounce I have because I'm not going to go out losing my last three."
UB seemed to be in good shape when it took a 20-10 lead in the third quarter when a Freedy pass deflected off wide receiver Dan Lindsay and into the hands of Maurice Bradford, who ran untouched 44 yards into the end zone with 3:27 remaining in the third.
"When we go up 10 points, we have all the confidence in the world in our defense," Dwarte said. "I don't think we were satisfied, but we have to dig a little bit deeper to get that next touchdown to keep it going."
Eastern Michigan came back quickly. Quarterback Kainoa Akina hit Chris Archie for a 14-yard TD, and then Roberson, who finished with 163 yards rushing, scored from 16 yards out.
The Bulls still had some hope when they got the ball with 57 seconds remaining on their own 44 with no timeouts left.
Freedy completed a 12-yard strike to Matt Knueven then after two incompletions he found Bradford for a 13-yard gain to the Eastern Michigan 31. The Bulls couldn't get any closer and the drive ended when Knueven tried to make a one-handed catch of a Freedy pass that was sailing out of bounds inside the red zone.
"It becomes much tougher when it goes from first and 10, to second and then to third and 10," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "Now you have two downs to try and move the sticks, which every time you do that, you're burning off time. Too little, too late."
Eastern Michigan took a 3-0 lead on a Toller Starnes 25-yard field goal in the first quarter. But with 4:01 remaining in the quarter, Dallas Pelz kicked a 23-yard field goal to tie the game at 3. Early in the second period, Jamal Stevens scored on an 8-yard pass from Kainoa Akina but UB answered quickly.
The Bulls moved the ball to the 11-yard line but the drive appeared fated to stall until Dwarte received a screen pass from Freedy. Eastern Michigan's Erick Middleton blocked Dwarte's path of the end zone but Dwarte put a juke on him, Middleton fell and Dwarte vaulted into the left corner of the end zone to tie the score at 10.
The game remained knotted until Pelz nailed a 40-yard field goal with 10:16 left in the third quarter to give UB its first lead.
"We haven't won as many games as we wanted to, but that's life," Dwarte said. "Like coach Hofher says, we have another opportunity next week and two more after that to make the wrong things right."
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