It was supposed to be a night when the University at Buffalo football team was going to celebrate a historic moment for the program.
Instead, Ohio University spoiled any plans the Bulls had to celebrate a MAC East Division championship, and the Bobcats wasted little time doing it.
In a 52-17 rout of the Bulls on Wednesday at Peden Stadium -- Buffalo’s first loss since Sept. 29 -- the Bobcats limited the usually potent Bulls to 277 yards of offense on 45 plays, including only 120 passing yards.
“They came out with more of a spark than we did,” UB linebacker Khalil Hodge said. “We came out flat and we just didn’t handle business, plain and simple. They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. We just didn’t execute, and we didn’t make the plays we needed to.”
Ohio’s defense capitalized on three significant mistakes by the Bulls offense in the first half, which helped the Bobcats take a 31-10 lead at halftime.
With the game tied at 7-7, Kylan Nelson intercepted Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson at the Ohio 34, on third-and-10 from the UB 20, three plays the Bulls (9-2, 6-1 MAC) were penalized for an ineligible receiver, which wiped out a 45-yard catch by Anthony Johnson. Quarterback Nathan Rourke’s 2-yard run with 1:35 left in the first that gave the Bobcats (7-4, 5-2) a 14-7 lead.
Jarren Hampton intercepted Jackson three plays UB’s first drive of the second quarter, and the ensuing drive set up Maleek Irons’ touchdown that gave the Bobcats a 24-7 lead. Then, when Jackson appeared to put the Bulls in scoring position with a 55-yard run, the Bobcats tackled the 6-foot-7 quarterback inside the 5 and Ohio safety Javon Hagan recovered the fumble. That set up Ohio’s fifth scoring drive, and A.J. Ouellette’s 8-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds left in the half helped the Bobcats to a 31-10 lead at halftime.
Jackson, who finished with 116 yards and was intercepted twice on 9-of-21 passing and was intercepted twice, shouldered the blame for much of his team’s inept output.
“We just didn’t play well, it’s that plain and simple,” said Jackson, who scored Buffalo’s only touchdown on a 4-yard run at 2:18 of the first quarter. “I take full responsibility for it. I didn’t play well. We just didn’t play well at all.
“It hurts. It definitely hurts. It’s been a while since we lost and we haven’t lost a lot, but it just hurts. And we’ve got to know how this feels.”
By the third quarter, any hopes UB had of taking a division title back to Western New York had all but disappeared, as the Bobcats built a 38-10 lead on the second of Ouellette’s three touchdowns less than six minutes into the second half.
Paced by Ouellette (196 yards, two touchdowns on 26 carries, two catches for 16 yards and a touchdown), the Bobcats (7-4, 5-2) ran for 437 yards, including 325 in the first half, and scored on their first seven possessions – numbers that Hodge called “unacceptable.”
UB coach Lance Leipold didn’t mince words about team’s lopsided loss, either.
“They executed really well, and we tackled terribly,” Leipold said. “Like I told the team, it’s on me. We were thoroughly outcoached and completely outplayed. It’s disappointing.
“We did not play well in any area of the football game. We had a few flashes. We’ve got to own that, and we’ve got to turn the page quickly and get this team ready to play at Bowling Green.”
After the loss, the Bulls had already turned their focus to their regular-season finale at noon Nov. 23 at Bowling Green, which became a must-win game after the loss to the Bobcats (7-4, 5-2)
UB has to win at Bowling Green to win the MAC East and secure a spot in the MAC championship game Nov. 30 in Detroit. If Ohio defeats Akron and Buffalo loses next Friday, then Ohio wins the MAC East.
Miami (Ohio) could also throw a wrench into UB’s plans, after its 13-7 win Wednesday at Northern Illinois. Even though the Bulls defeated the RedHawks earlier this season, the RedHawks also defeated Ohio 30-28 on Nov. 7, and are tied for second in the MAC East with Ohio at 5-2.
If the Bulls lose at Bowling Green and the Bobcats win against Akron on Friday, and Miami wins Tuesday against Ball State, Miami wins the MAC East on the basis of head-to-head competition, with its win against the Bobcats.
“This is a MAC championship-or-bust game for us, and it has to be taken as such,” Hodge said. “Win and we’re still in. That’s our mindset. It’s a playoff mentality now, and that’s how we’re going to approach this week.”