MOBILE, Ala. – The University at Buffalo football team had a chance to add to program history. But a season that began with so much excitement ended on a down note Saturday night on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
The Bulls lost, 42-32, to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. UB squandered a lead for the second time in as many games, and lost a chance to earn the program’s first win in a bowl game.
At 10-4, UB finished with a program-record 10 victories, but also lost three of their last four, including the Mid-American Conference championship game.
Tyrone Hill gave the Bulls a 24-21 lead on a 93-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with 5:23 left in the third, but the Bulls couldn’t do anything else in the third – simply because they didn’t have the ball.
Troy (10-3) maintained offensive possession for the entirety of the third quarter, and Sawyer Smith’s 2-yard pass to Damion Willis less than a minute into the fourth quarter sparked the Trojans.
Willis’ touchdown was the first of three fourth-quarter scores for the Trojans, who had the ball for 22 minutes of the second half. UB ran just 24 plays after halftime.
“I don’t fault our players,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “They played hard. They competed until the very end. We didn’t win the special teams battle, we didn’t get off the field enough when we needed to.”
While the Bulls cut the lead to 35-32 with 7:24 left, on K.J. Osborn’s 3-yard touchdown catch, followed by Tyree Jackson’s 2-point conversion pass to Antonio Nunn, they couldn’t find an answer.
The Trojans took up a lot of their time to find one. UB cornerback Tatum Slack said he had never been in that position before, where his team played on defense for the entirety of a quarter.
“The third quarter, it was a long quarter,” said Slack, who had a game-high 11 tackles. “Being on the field that long is never easy, especially after Tyrone scored the touchdown.
“The next play was back on defense, and it was a lot of fatigue, but you have to battle as a defense.”
The Trojans exploited that, gaining 433 yards, with 320 coming through the air, and 272 in the second half, including 166 passing yards.
Then, with 1:10 left and Troy ahead by 10 points, the Trojans blocked Adam Mitcheson’s 30-yard field-goal attempt, thwarting any hopes the Bulls had of setting up an onside kick after a late score to attempt a comeback.
Special teams play was just as problematic as a lack of possession was for the Bulls.
The only time UB touched the ball in the third quarter was on Hill’s fumble recovery, which came after Trojans kicker Bratcher Underwood recovered his own onside kick 5:19 into the second half.
Eight plays into the drive, UB linebacker James Patterson hit B.J. Smith (20 carries for 93 yards, touchdown) on second-and goal from the 6, and the ball popped from the Troy running back’s hands. Hill scooped the ball from the turf at the Troy 7 and ran untouched to the opposite end zone to help the Bulls take a 24-21 lead with 5:23 left in the third.
“The onside kick one, which was a huge momentum, which was when Tyrone picked it up and took it,” Leipold said. “It didn’t lead to points, but it just didn’t lead to any offensive possessions in the third quarter, which is extremely frustrating.”
Turnovers also plagued the Bulls. UB had four -- one interception and three lost fumbles among six overall, including Carlton Martial’s first-half recovery of an uncharacteristic fumble by Jaret Patterson that set up the Trojans’ game-tying drive, as Willis caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Sawyer Smith (31-for-44 passing, 320 yards, four touchdowns) on the ensuing drive to help Troy tie the game at 14-14.
“We’ve played good football all year, no penalties and winning the turnover battle,” said Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson, who finished 20-for-35 passing for 274 yards and a touchdown. “We put our defense in tough situations and that’s kind of the story of it. We hurt our defense by doing that. Turnovers definitely hurt us.”