His faltering offense was out of sync and trailed by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter and still coach Turner Gill wasn't convinced the University at Buffalo was finished.
There were no tantrums, no broken clipboards and certainly no finger pointing. Instead, Gill told his team it was too talented and too proud to lie down and roll over against Army. The Bulls regrouped and scored two touchdowns, one set up by a takeaway, and pulled out a 27-24 overtime victory Saturday in front of 21,719, the fifth-largest crowd in the history of UB Stadium.
Drama is apparently going to be the norm for UB (3-4) this season. Three of the Bulls' last four games have come down to the final play of the contest, including last week's overtime loss to Western Michigan. The Bulls scored 14 unanswered points in regulation and won the game in overtime on a 34-yard field goal by A.J. Principe. Army's Matthew Campbell missed a 51-yard field goal that would have sent the game into a second overtime.
"With this season, it's been all about dramatics," said senior quarterback Drew Willy, who completed 25 of 35 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. "We know anything can happen in a game."
Said Gill, "My heart's fine. I won't have to go see any doctors, that's for sure."
For a while, the Bulls seemed destined for a heartbreaker and a fourth consecutive loss that would have placed a damper on any bowl consideration. The offense was stagnant without injured starting tailback James Starks (Niagara Falls), who didn't dress for the game because of turf toe. His backup, junior Mario Henry, was injured in the third quarter with what Gill said initially appears to be a torn ligament in his right knee.
The Army pass rush was better and more active than anticipated and Willy, who was sacked five times, wasn't given much time to throw.
"I gave [the players] a quote this week from Winston Churchill, 'Never give in, never surrender,' " Gill said. "That's kind of what happened in this ball game. We never gave in, and we never surrendered."
Trailing, 24-10, after Collin Mooney's 81-yard touchdown run with 1:27 left in the third quarter, Willy had touchdown passes of 8 yards to Naaman Roosevelt (St. Joe's) and 15 yards to Ernest Jackson. Willy's touchdown to Jackson was set up by a forced fumble on Mooney by Justin Winters and a recovery by Kendrick Hawkins, who returned it 24 yards to the Army 16. A personal foul penalty by the Black Knights (2-5) moved the Bulls to the Army 8 and the UB punched it in three plays later.
"Davonte [Shannon] was grabbing at his arm so I would say we both caused the fumble," said Winters, who poked the ball away from Mooney from behind. "I stripped the ball, hit the ground and looked up and saw Kendrick Hawkins. I thought he was going to score. It was nice."
Said Hawkins, "I saw the ball pop out and my eyes got big and I started running."
The play before Hawkins' fumble recovery, UB's Brandon Thermilus was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the Army 16 with 5:30 left in the game and the Bulls appeared headed for another demoralizing defeat.
"We kept telling ourselves that we have to keep pushing and to play UB football," Jackson said.
Instead, the Bulls opened up their offense against a defense that played far softer in the last five minutes than it had in the first 55. The Black Knights didn't stop blitzing, but their pass defense suddenly became vulnerable. Willy began rolling out and started finding open receivers with pinpoint passes long and short. His touchdown pass to Jackson -- who finished with a career-high 134 yards and tied his career best with nine receptions -- was whistled tightly in between Army defensive backs Mario Hill and Donovan Travis.
"They got some guys open," said Army coach Stan Brock. "[Willy] moved around. We know Willy is a good quarterback, he bought himself some time, the receivers did a better job of getting open and they got open."
UB received the ball first in overtime and Principe, who missed the potential winning field goal at Central Michigan, made a 34-yarder. Then Army seemed to self destruct. The Black Knights were called for a false start on first down and on third-and-18 and were hit with a delay of game penalty. After Chip Bowden's pass to Damion Hunter was incomplete, Campbell set up for a 51-yard field goal attempt that he missed wide right.
"It's great to have a W," Gill said. "No doubt."
UB 27, Army 24