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UB Bulls dominate Massachusetts 41-21 in season finale

Licata throws four touchdowns, Taylor runs for 237 yards as Buffalo finishes season 5-6

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In the last month and a half, the Buffalo football team has faced a fired head coach, two devastating road losses and a canceled final home game and senior night amid a massive lake effect snowstorm.

But despite the less-than-desired circumstances, the Bulls’ final two games might have been their best. Buffalo finished the season with two wins and scored the most points in a two game stretch since 1959 (96 points). Junior quarterback Joe Licata said the two games were the most fun he’s had since high school football.

The Bulls (5-6, 3-4 Mid-American Conference) ended their season with a dominant 41-21 victory over the Minutemen (3-9, 3-5 MAC) in Amherst, Massachusetts Friday. Alex Wood went 2-2, including Friday’s win and a 55-24 victory over Akron two weeks ago, in four games as interim head coach after taking over for fired head coach Jeff Quinn.

“I think we showed we're resilient,” said senior cornerback Cortney Lester. “We can come back and play winning football no matter what happens.”

The Bulls dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 35:05 and outgaining the Minutemen 548 to 330 total yards of offense, including 242 to 63 in the first half. Massachusetts’ longest drive of the first half lasted eight plays and went only 32 yards.

Licata threw four touchdown passes for the second consecutive game, passing former Bull Drew Willy for the most in a single season in program history. He finishes his junior season with 29 touchdown passes.

Junior running back Anthone Taylor ran for his third 200-yard performance of the season, running for 237 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. He had 25 carries in the first half alone. Taylor ran for a career-long 76 yards on a fourth quarter touchdown run that put the Bulls up 41-14.

“He came through again,” Wood said. “He does a good job seeing the lanes the offensive line creates for him."

Taylor’s 1,403 rushing yards this season ranks second in program history. He trails only UB all-time rushing leader Branden Oliver (1,535) for the most yards in a single season.

The Minutemen were without senior quarterback and MAC-leading passer Blake Frohnapfel, who suffered a leg injury in a 24-10 win over Ball State on Nov. 12, for the second straight game. The Massachusetts offense took another hit when junior Jean Sifrin – who leads all MAC tight ends with 616 receiving yards – left the game in second quarter with a leg injury.

Buffalo sacked Austin Whipple – Minutemen freshman quarterback and son of Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple – five times. Senior linebacker Lee Skinner, who played his final college game, had 10 tackles and three sacks.

Buffalo’s offense erupted after a scoreless first quarter in which both teams had three drives end in a 3-and-out, with the Bulls’ fourth drive ending in a missed field goal. Buffalo scored a touchdown on five straight possessions, including the final two drives of the second half for a 13-0 halftime lead.

“I think when [Licata] started to hit some things in the passing game with [junior wide receiver] Ron Willoughby is when he started clicking, once we got that first score down,” Wood said.

The Bulls’ first touchdown came on their longest drive of the season: a 17-play, 99-yard second quarter drive that lasted over eight minutes. Licata ended the drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Devon Hughes. Hughes made a diving catch in the back of the end zone. Taylor converted three third-downs on the ground during the drive.

After the Bulls defense forced another Massachusetts punt, Licata led Buffalo down the field for another touchdown in the final minute of the half. He threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Jacob Martinez. Senior kicker Patrick Clarke missed the extra point.

Massachusetts finally got on the board after the Bulls took a 20-0 lead off a 22-yard touchdown catch by Willoughby. Minutemen junior wide receiver Marken Michel ran for a 50-yard touchdown out of the option.

The Bulls responded to take a 27-7 lead nine plays later with Hughes’ second touchdown catch of the game. The score was set up by junior running back Devin Campbell’s 56-yard kickoff return.

Buffalo finishes the season playing only 11 games after its Nov. 19 game against Kent State was canceled. There was an outside possibility the Bulls would have received a bowl invite had they finished the season with six wins – the minimum number of wins to be considered bowl eligible.

Only one win against an FCS team counts for bowl eligibility and two of Buffalo’s wins are over FCS opponents. But if fewer than 78 teams qualified for bowl eligibility, there was a chance the Bulls could have received an invite with six wins. The MAC announced Buffalo’s game against Kent State will not be rescheduled.

“Five is better than four,” Wood said with a laugh.

The Bulls return their leading passer (Licata), rusher (Taylor) and receiver (Willoughby) next season. Buffalo loses three of its starting five offense lineman and its two leading tacklers in Skinner and senior safety Adam Redden to graduation.

“It was that senior class, the leaders on this team that kept us together,” Licata said. “We knew our record wasn't going to be what we wanted it to be but we knew if we fought together we were going to have success.”

Buffalo will likely hire its new head coach within the next month.

“I'm going to be in his office every day over winter break so I hope he's ready to see me,” Licata said.

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