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Clarke boots UB’s blues away

As soon as the ball left his foot Patrick Clarke turned his back and fled. He fled in the direction of the scoreboard showing no time left on the clock. Toward the scoreboard that was updating UB’s point total with finality. He kept running and running because closing in were a couple tons worth of teammates eager to bury him beneath the victory pile.

A 47-yard field goal for the win? That’s nothing. The real pressure comes when you’re anointed the hero, lose the footrace and end up the low man in the mountain of humanity. That’s when the ending becomes truly breathtaking.

“I was trying to get away from the dog pile as fast as I could because I knew it was coming,” Clarke said.

While Clarke lined up the field goal that would deliver UB’s 27-24 victory over Miami, senior defensive end Steven Means contemplated no less important matters: Where’s the victory shampoo? The thought went through his head when Devin Campbell put UB (2-7, 1-4) in field goal position with a stunning 47-yard kickoff return after the RedHawks tied the score with 23 seconds left.

“I go right to the Gatorade and I get the Gatorade ready because I’m like, ‘We got the win and I’m dumping this on coach Quinn,’” Means said. “Me, [Khalil] Mack, Willie [Moseley] … we all got our heads down and we just hear the crowd go crazy. We just went straight to the Gatorade.”

The sights and sounds of victory returned to UB Stadium for the first time in a long time Saturday afternoon. Never mind that conquest of Morgan State in early September. That was a step-down game. A scheduled win. Not since Nov. 19 of last year had the Bulls beaten a team of the same ilk, an FBS team, a Mid-American Conference team. Miami (4-5, 3-2) arrived thinking “division title” after last week’s conquest of Ohio U.

“It might have been the greatest win of my career,” Means said. “Just to come from fighting so hard every week, knowing the coaches got a good game plan every week, and we come up short. And today, I don’t have no regrets. I left it all on the line and I felt every man out there did the same.”

Victory rode out of UB Stadium on the shoulders of a cast of dozens. Branden Oliver ran for 199 yards and a touchdown. Joe Licata threw two TDs as the injury replacement for Alex Zordich. The defense, and particularly the secondary, played its finest game of the year in trying to defense Zac Dysert, one of the best passing quarterbacks in the nation.

Backup quarterback Tony Daniel dropped the snap on a fourth-quarter field goal try but recovered to throw for a first down. Fred Lee dropped a Licata pass early then made a sliding catch for the temporary go-ahead TD with 5:36 left. Campbell lost a fumble on one of his two carries but returned to play a starring role on the game’s final kickoff. Redemption reigned.

“I was like, I got to make up for what I did losing the ball,” Campbell said. “I saw the whole kickoff team flow to the right so I’m like I’m going to go left, and I saw how open it was. I didn’t know where I was at. After I got up off the ground I saw we were in field goal range.”

Fourteen seconds remained. UB ran Oliver up the middle for 5 yards to the Miami 30, called its final timeout. Out came Clarke, who made a career-high 49-yarder at the same end earlier.

“Away from the scoreboard I think I had maybe 55, 60,” Clarke said of his wind-aided range. “The other way was pretty tough. The wind was blowing pretty hard.”

Circumstances conspired to give Clarke his game-winning shot. Seconds earlier the game appeared headed for overtime. A minute before that it appeared UB would wrap up the win in regulation. Instead, Dysert threw for a first down on fourth-and-20 after a conversion earlier in the drive on fourth-and-4. And he did it by feeding the ball into holes barely bigger than the ball itself, a trick he completed again on a 5-yard TD throw to Nick Harwell with 23 seconds left. It was their third TD connection on the day.

UB played its best defensive half of the season to open the game. Sometimes it forced Dysert into quick throws with pressure. Other times the Bulls flooded the secondary and challenged him to find open receivers. Dysert produced a couple how-did-he-do-that completions, but for the most part UB held him and his receiving corps in check. The first half numbers: 5 of 15 passing for 35 yards.

A stymied passing game, coupled with Miami’s general ineffectiveness on the ground, left the RedHawks with just 83 yards of offense in the first half and a 29-yard field goal by freshman Kaleb Patterson, one of the heroes in last week’s upset of No. 22 Ohio.

Miami’s lead lasted a second more than two minutes as UB responded following a short kickoff that tight end Jimmy Gordon returned 17 yards to the 43. The Bulls advanced to the Miami 32, from where Clarke matched his career best with a 49-yard field goal with the wind at his back.

Licata was 7 of 13 passing for 35 yards in the half, numbers diminished when Lee and Rudy Johnson dropped pinpoint passes that would have been good for mid-range gains. Meanwhile, the Bulls received quality play from their secondary. Safety Derek Brim provided help over the top to deprive Harwell of a chance at a 45-yard touchdown catch. Extra defensive back Marqus Baker nearly picked off one pass and had a key breakup on another.

Both offenses got it going in the second half, right up until the very end. Until Clarke turned and ran toward a final scoreboard that for once showed numbers to UB’s liking.