The University at Buffalo's chance of sidestepping an embarrassing winless season in the Mid-American Conference comes down to one game.
The Bulls capitalized just once inside the Akron 20 and the Zips sacked Randall Secky five times while controlling the line of scrimmage Saturday to pin a 21-10 loss on the Bulls in the Rubber Bowl.
UB, losers of nine straight, fell to 1-10 and 0-7 in the MAC. The season finale is next week at Ball State (5-5, 3-3), which roughed up Central Michigan, 38-21, on Saturday. Next weekend will be UB's last chance to avoid its second winless season in the MAC in four years.
"In the beginning of the year, we wanted to have a winning season and our first three or four games were outside of the MAC," said senior split end Andre Forde, who finished with nine receptions for 126 yards and scored UB's lone touchdown on a 32-yard pass from Secky in the second quarter. "When we got into MAC play we really wanted to step up our games. Some games have been close, some games have been far off, but we've got one more so we have to keep pressing."
In a sloppy game marred by 20 penalties for 201 yards, the Zips finally settled the issue when tailback Bob Hendry scored from a yard out 46 seconds into the fourth quarter. UB had a last chance to close the gap and drove to the Akron 12 on its final possession, but Secky's pass was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Ricky McKenzie. In four possessions in the final period, that was only time the Bulls moved past midfield.
"It's a disappointing outcome, not only in the outcome but kind of in the sloppiness to the finish," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "We fight like crazy with our football team and our program to try and force a game to be as close as it can be and win it late, and we really didn't play as smart as we needed to win it at the end."
Actually, UB's chance for victory evaporated earlier.
With Akron leading, 14-7, and 5:01 remaining in the second quarter, the Zips' Brandon Payne muffed a punt that was recovered on the Akron 14-yard line by UB's Mike Lambert, giving the Bulls their best field position of the half. But the drive collapsed when Mike Baker was wide right on a 26-yard field-goal attempt. Akron, which at times was equally inept offensively, followed with a 59-yard drive that ended when Billy Sullivan missed a 38-yard field goal wide left.
Then on their first possession in the third quarter, Bulls tailback Dave Dawson peeled off a 44-yard run, the longest of his career, to put UB on the Akron 6. UB didn't budge following two run plays for Aaron Leeper before Secky missed Forde wide right for an incompletion out of bounds. Baker's 23-yard field goal prevented another red zone cave-in.
"We ended up getting a field goal instead of a PAT," Hofher said. "If we say that was the tale of the tape, maybe it was (and) maybe it wasn't. You'd like to think that at that stage of the game there would have been ample time to recover, which is why we kicked a field goal instead of trying to jam it in there."
Hofher said the difference was that Akron won the line of scrimmage. Secky threw for 240 yards on 19-of-38 passing but was sacked five times and threw two interceptions as the Zips pressured the interior.
"There wasn't a whole lot of room for him to move at times," Hofher said. "They did a real nice job with that."
UB enjoyed some vibrant defensive plays as well -- the Bulls recorded five sacks, led by tackle Rob Schroeder's two -- but Akron's plays were more timely throughout the game.
"That, to me, was far more indicative of the outcome," Hofher said.