The University at Buffalo football team braced for overtime, after Old Dominion celebrated a touchdown in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.
But a swath of yellow fabric fell to the ground, just as the Bulls and Monarchs prepared to line up for the extra point: Old Dominion for a kick that would tie the game, and UB to defend the kick.
Old Dominion backup quarterback Reese Poffenbarger had run onto the field to celebrate the 19-yard touchdown catch by Zack Kuntz with 19 seconds left in regulation. It was an unusual lack of composure for a team that had confidently erased all but one point of UB’s lead.
The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Monarchs pushed back Nick Rice’s extra-point attempt, and Rice’s try went wide right, which helped UB secure a 35-34 win Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Va.
The miss capped off a game in which the Bulls led 35-7 at halftime, but squandered nearly all of its 28-point lead. The Monarchs cut UB’s lead to 7 points, first on D.J. Mack’s 2-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and then on Jon-Luke Peaker’s 7-yard touchdown midway through the fourth.
“We let our foot off the gas, as a defense,” said linebacker James Patterson, whose team recovered the onside kick attempt by the Monarchs late in the fourth to close out the win. “We got lackadaisical and started being sloppy, ourselves.
“Communication. Execution and the want-to. We started getting lackadaisical, like they were just going to lay down and going to give us the win. But we know in the future that we have to keep going and take the win, take the harness.”
Patterson said he didn’t see Old Dominion’s backup quarterback celebrate on the field, but knew his team needed to quickly regroup.
“I saw Cory Gross get the ball and my instant reaction was to get guys around him and pick him up, and have his back and tell him, ‘it’s a next-play mentality, get ready to block that field goal’ because we still had a lot of time left,” Patterson said.
“When I saw that he kicked it and went a little bit to the right, and it was no good, I started signaling no good, and that’s when we knew we won. I still knew we had one more play to play, and that was the onside kick.”
The recovery of the onside kick ended a game in which the Bulls’ offense flowed smoothly – almost effortlessly – in the first half, accruing 257 yards, including 120 of Quian Williams’ 135 receiving yards in the first 30 minutes. But in the second half, it was nearly nonexistent. So was the defense, which gave up 319 yards to Old Dominion in the second half.
The Bulls (2-2) were without defensive end Taylor Riggins, who was out for the game due to an unspecified injury; UB coach Maurice Linguist said he expects Riggins to return for the Bulls’ Mid-American Conference opener at noon Saturday against Western Michigan.
But missing and injured personnel weren’t the only things to blame in a game that almost resulted in a loss for the Bulls.
“It’s the nature of big-time college games on the road,” Linguist said. “It’s a hostile environment. Old Dominion, credit to those guys for battling back and they responded to the situation they were in. There’s a couple plays where they had a couple balls on the ground and we could have made a play here where we could have gotten off the field and we didn’t make the play.
“We’re going to look at everything we need to look at and point out the things we need to point out to this team, in terms of what didn’t go the way we planned on it, and really go back to our practices and everything we do, to look at all the pieces of the roster right now.”
UB defensive end C.J. Bazile blocked Rice’s 24-yard field goal attempt for the Monarchs and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown, the first of several special teams gaffes that resulted in scoring opportunities for both teams.
The Monarchs blocked an Evan Finegan punt – their second blocked punt – on fourth-and-5 from the 50. Old Dominion returned the ball to the UB 26, and the Monarchs needed four plays before Blake Watson’s 2-yard touchdown run helped the Monarchs tie the game at 7-7 with 2:37 left in the first.
A little more than a minute into the second quarter, Kyle Vantrease’s 4-yard touchdown run gave the Bulls a 14-7 lead, and Williams’ 13-yard touchdown with 8:20 left in the half gave the Bulls a 21-7 lead. Then, five minutes later, Dylan McDuffie’s 20-yard touchdown run helped the Bulls take a 28-7 lead, and Tim Terry’s 67-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with 2:07 left in the half helped the Bulls take a 35-7 lead into halftime.
Kevin Marks, though, fumbled the ball on UB’s first possession of the second half, which put the Monarchs at the UB 47. Mack, Old Dominion’s quarterback, finished the eight-play drive with a 42-yard touchdown run that made it 35-14 midway through the third quarter.
After hanging on to win by a point, Patterson wanted his team to savor the win. However, he knew that there was only a small window of time to do so.
“As soon as tomorrow hits, we’ll watch the film together and we have to be better,” Patterson said. “MAC play is way different than nonconference play. Everything counts. It’s either go home, or go hard. You can’t sit there and take any game for granted.”