BOCA RATON, Fla. – Senior linebacker Travis Pitzonka has paid his dues for the University at Buffalo the past three years and finally got a big moment in the sun Saturday.
Pitzonka, a Lancaster High product who started his UB career as a walk-on, made the turning-point play of UB’s 33-15 victory over Florida Atlantic. He scooped up a fumble and ran 60 yards for a touchdown.
Florida Atlantic was leading, 9-0, at the time and was moving into position for another score, facing a third-and-1 situation from the UB 29. It was the first TD of Pitzonka’s career, high school or college.
“I was gripping that ball with my life,” Pitzonka said. “because if somebody’s going to come behind me they’re going to go for a ride on my shoulders but they’re not going to get the ball out.”
Pitzonka has been a special teams ace for the Bulls and saw mostly mop-up duty lsat season because UB’s starting linebackers stayed healthy. This year he has a more significant role, as a linebacker in UB’s nickel defense.
“We had a great play,” said Pitzonka. “We had some pressure called. We executed really well. My guys swarmed to the ball and got the ball out. I had the easier part to scoop it and run as fast as I could down the field.”
First half flop: The seven first-half possessions by the UB offense produced five punts, a safety and an interception. UB was outgained in the first half, 312 to 106.
Second-half runs: The Bulls’ offensive coaches managed the game smartly in the second half and made adjustments in the run game. UB rushed 13 times for 52 yards in the first half, 26 times for 124 yards in the second. Anthone Taylor gained 116 yards on 65 carries. Jordan Johnson had 14 for 66 and scored on a 19-yard run.
Offensive woes: Why did the offense struggle? A couple times pass protection broke down. QB Joe Licata took at least four first-half hits. A few third-and-short failures prevented any shot to play up-tempo. FAU’s team speed swallowed up the screen game. Licata finished 10 of 20 for just 105 yards, the second lowest total of his career as a starter. He threw late and over the middle on his first-half INT, which led to an easy FAU TD.
“I should have taken either Ron or Marcus on the outside,” Licata said, referring to Ron Willoughby and Marcus McGill. “I came back and worked the inside and I shouldn’t have done that. They were giving us the looks we expected, I just didn’t execute.”
Ross INT: Cornerback Boise Ross showed good closing speed on the sideline interception he returned 39 yards for a score.
“I was reading three-step, because my receiver was looking at me the whole time,” Ross said. “I kind of baited it a little bit, and then I jumped it.”
Coffin corner: UB’s third quarter safety was set up by a 51-yard punt with a 4.5-second hang time to the 1 by Tyler Grassman.
Lineups: UB was without No. 2 tight end Mason Schreck, who suffered a knee injury in practice. It’s not believed to be a serious injury. Redshirt freshman Kevin Rogers took Schreck’s spot. Defensive tackle Brandon Crawford started at defensive end for a second straight game, which gives UB a slightly stouter front four.
New decal: UB debuted new white helmets, with its standing bull logo on the side.
In the House: The paid attendance was 15,397 but there looked like about 4,000 in the stands.
Next Up: The Bulls play host to Nevada, coached by St. Francis High product Brian Polian, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.