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BULLS DEFENSE REFUSES TO BREAK

For more than 40 minutes, the defense bent, bent, bent but kept the University at Buffalo in the game.

The Bulls stopped Connecticut on its first 10 third-down conversion attempts before the Huskies finally broke through and eventually pulled away for a 29-0 victory Saturday in UB's season finale in Rentschler Field.

"We just went out there to try to make some plays on defense and stop them," said senior safety J.J. Gibson (Sweet Home). "Third down is the 'money down.' You go out there, try to stop them and get off the field."

UConn finished the game just 4 of 16 on third down and was only ahead by two scores (15-0) before Cornell Brockington's 43-yard touchdown run with 2:17 left in the third quarter provided breathing room.

"It was very encouraging to me that we had done such a good job on the third-down situations," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "It's a very good offense UConn has. . . . We don't have anything to hang our heads on in terms of our grit, our effort and the opportunities to get into that many third-down and fourth-down situations."

Junior linebacker Bryan Cummings led the Bulls with a career-high 15 tackles and Gibson added 14. Both were credited with seven solos; that gave Gibson 59 for his career, eighth on the all-time UB list.

Gibson finished his season with 113 tackles, making him the first Bull since 1996 graduate Craig Guest to have two 100-tackle seasons. Gibson had 108 as a freshman.

Gibson was one of 13 UB players playing the final game of their senior season. UConn honored 24 seniors in pregame ceremonies.

"We're going up," Gibson said. "We've got some good guys, some good talent. The guys are working hard. UB is going up, most definitely."

"We'll be more mature than we've ever been since I've been coaching here next year with 17 fifth-year seniors," said Hofher. "That's another step to take. . . . We've got to find guys and develop them and I know we've done that with the guys on our team that return."

Hofher is 7-39 in four seasons but his team will have plenty of returning talent and probably won't face the star-studded opponents at quarterback it's had to deal with in recent seasons.

"We faced a 10,000-yard total offense quarterback (Akron's Charlie Frye) six weeks ago," Hofher said. "We faced a 10,000-yard quarterback two weeks ago (Kent State's Joshua Cribbs). We faced a 10,000-yard quarterback today (UConn's Dan Orlovsky). God knows, how many more of those do we have to face?

"We've faced two (NFL) first-rounders in the last two years (Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Miami's Ben Roethlisberger) that are dynamic. We're getting older and I think we're getting better but it does eventually need to be reflected in winning and losing."

UConn is 8-1 against UB over the last 10 seasons (the teams did not meet in 1998) and the aggregate score over the last three years favors the Huskies, 91-10. UB's last win over UConn was the 37-20 victory it posted in 2001 at old Memorial Stadium, a half-hour away on the Huskies' Storrs campus. UB will open the 2005 season in East Hartford.

UConn finished 6-1 at home (losing only to West Virginia). Six of the seven games at 2-year-old Rentschler Field were sellouts. The average attendance in the $91 million facility was 39,304.

This was the eight straight year -- and 17th time in the last 18 seasons -- the Bulls have closed with a loss. The only win in that stretch was at Maine in 1996 (35-31). . . . UB senior wide receiver Matt Kneuven made a 12-yard reception in the second quarter, giving him at least one catch in his final 23 career games. . . . UB senior Rodney Morris was given a start at linebacker in his swan song. Morris, the Bulls' starting middle linebacker last season, had been out all year due to knee surgery until returning last week against Central Michigan. . . . UConn has one more game, a Thanksgiving morning contest at Rutgers that will be televised on ESPN2.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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