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Scoring drought proves costly after great start

ERMUNCIE, Ind. -- The first time it had the ball Saturday the University at Buffalo went 60 yards for the game's first touchdown. And then it went scoreless until midway through the third quarter.

"When you score early like we did, you have to stay poised and continue to play great football, and that's what we didn't do offensively," quarterback Chazz Anderson said. "And we hurt ourselves. We have to stay poised when we made big plays. We have to do it all the time."

The Bulls struck just over three minutes into the game, on a fourth-and-4 play from the Ball State 27. Slot receiver Terrell Jackson, a former high school quarterback, took a reverse from Anderson and hit Marcus Rivers down the right sideline for the touchdown.

It was the second straight week UB scored on its opening drive. Anderson connected with tight end Alex Dennison on the first play from scrimmage against Stony Brook.

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First-year Ball State coach Pete Lembo has been working hard to drum up local interest in his team. It doesn't look like his efforts are getting him anywhere.

Ball State had an average attendance of 8,947 last year, lowest of the 117 FCS schools and the only one under 10,000. And although the attendance hadn't been announced by halftime Saturday night, the small gathering at Scheumann Stadium suggests they could be last in line again this year.

Crowds of about 20,000 were the norm in 2008, when the Cardinals ran through the regular season unbeaten and ascended to No. 12 in the country before getting knocked off by UB in the MAC championship game in Detroit. That loss -- and the subsequent departure of standout quarterback Nate Davis -- ignited a reversal of fortunes during which Ball State has gone 7-21.

Fans in these parts still struggle to shake off that 2008 title game in which Ball State outgained UB, 503-301, led in first down, 30-18, but fell, 42-24, as the Bulls had two long fumble returns for touchdowns.

"At our fan luncheon and radio show (Monday), there was a lot of talk from our fans about the '08 game," Lembo told the Muncie Star Press.

"For the guys who remember it, it always sticks in the back of you mind," said Ball State senior safety Sean Baker. "When I see 'Buffalo,' it's the first thing I thing of."

Of course, the two head coaches in that game are long gone. Ball State's Brady Hoke took the San Diego State job 10 days after the defeat and now is the head man at Michigan. Turner Gill spent another season at UB before accepting the Kansas job.

The current UB players who played in that game are Peter Fardon, Richie Smith, Scott Pettigrew, Matt Ostowski and Gordon DuBois.

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Branden Oliver finished with 122 yards on 27 carries, becoming the first UB back since James Starks to put together three straight 100-yard games. Cornerback Najia Johnson had four pass breakups, one off the school single-game record It was Jackson's second career touchdown pass. He threw one to Jesse Rack against Miami (Ohio) in November of '09.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com