Bulls pull off victory on Clarke’s last-second FG
Sophomore kicker Patrick Clarke (45) drilled home a game-winning 47-yard field goal to lift the Bulls over Miami Ohio on Saturday. Nick Fischetti /// The Spectrum
It had been nearly a calendar year since the football team had defeated another FBS program. In those eight games, the Bulls have lost leads, come back from large deficits only to fall short and simply been blown out.
On Saturday, the weight of that streak evaporated with just one kick.
Buffalo's (2-7, 1-4 Mid-American Conference) hopes fell on the right foot of sophomore kicker Patrick Clarke, and he came through in the clutch. With time expiring, his 47-yard field goal proved to be the difference, as the Bulls were able to clip Miami Ohio (4-5, 3-2 MAC) by a 27-24 score at UB Stadium.
After all the missed plays going against Buffalo this season, it was a victory that was needed, according to the team.
"I couldn't be more proud of my kids," said head coach Jeff Quinn. "It's a long overdue feeling in victory for our program, and it'll go down in the history books as one of the best endings at a football game here at UB."
It was an ending to a game that featured a multitude of unlikely plays.
The Bulls lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt after a stalled drive midway through the fourth quarter. Things looked dire when the snap was botched, but third-string freshman quarterback Tony Daniel rolled out to the right in an effort to keep the play alive. Daniel got rid of the ball just before taking a hit from Miami's D.J. Brown and it landed in the hands of sprawled-out junior tight end Alex Dennison for a Bulls first down.
Two plays later, freshman quarterback Joe Licata threw a rocket down the seam to double-covered junior wide out Free Lee, who somehow came up with the ball for a 21-yard touchdown. The Bulls led 24-17 with 5:36 left on the clock.
The show was just getting started.
It was the RedHawks' turn to show the Bulls what magic they possessed. Led by their heralded quarterback Zac Dysert, they marched down the field and survived a few third-down situations on the way.
The Bulls' 'D,' which held the Miami offense in check for most of the game, made what looked to be the play of the game. On first and 10 on the Bulls' 17-yard line, sophomore linebacker Lee Skinner corralled Dysert for a 10-yard sack, which eventually led to a fourth and 20 for Miami. Then Dysert threaded the needle on a long pass to the sideline, a 21-yard completion. The next play, Dysert hooked up with wide receiver Nick Harwell for the pair's third touchdown of the game, tying the game with 23 seconds left.
But freshman running back Devin Campbell and the Bulls' special teams unit decided overtime would not determine the fate of this game.
Campbell blew up the RedHawks' kickoff coverage unit as he returned the following kickoff 47 yards to the Miami 35-yard line, leaving plenty of room for Clarke to drill a game-winning field goal.
With two seconds left on the clock, Clarke lined up for a 47-yarder to ice the game.
"As soon as I kicked it, I knew it was good," Clarke said.
The celebration was immediate, as the team mobbed a sprinting Clarke, who tried to make it to the other side of the field to avoid the dog pile.
"The close ones are the best ones," said junior running back Branden Oliver. "To have two seconds left, and to see that ball go in the uprights, and to see Pat run, those are the best wins."
It marked an eventful first career start at quarterback for Licata. The freshman from local Williamsville South High School was at the helm of the Bulls' offense, replacing junior quarterback Alex Zordich. According to Licata, he felt comfortable, despite starting a game for the first time in two years.
"At the quarterback position, you're always in that spot of being the leader on that field," Licata said. "These guys really believed in me today, and I drew a lot of confidence from them."
He finished the game with 127 yards and completed 13-of-24 passing attempts and two touchdowns, the latter a pass over the middle to junior wide receiver Alex Neutz, who scampered into the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown. It was Neutz's ninth touchdown of the season, inching him closer to Naaman Roosevelt's record of 13 receiving touchdowns in a single season.
He was locked in a quarterback duel with Dysert, who passed legendary quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for No. 1 all-time in school history for career passing yards during the game. He finished with 242 yards and three touchdowns, as he and Licata went back and forth in a wild second half.
The Buffalo defense hounded the RedHawks throughout the first half, allowing only three points on a drive that started on their own 18-yard line. The RedHawks' longest drive of the half was a mere 29 yards.
"The defense held their quarterback [Dysert] to three points in the first half," Licata said. "That's amazing. You probably won't see that for the rest of the year with that quarterback over there. He's an unbelievable player."
The quarterback switch didn't affect the productivity of Oliver and the Bulls' running game. He finished the day with 199 yards rushing, upping his average to 145.2 yards per game on the season, and he has now rushed for over 100 yards in every game he's finished this year.
"The running game really helped our offense today," Licata said. "When you hand the ball off to Branden Oliver, a lot of great things can happen and you really saw that today."
It was only the second time this season that the Bulls led the game during the fourth quarter, the first being their blowout victory over FCS school Morgan State back in September.
"We knew that we were beating on the door, and today we broke it down," Quinn said.
Next up is Western Michigan (4-6, 2-4 MAC), who will visit UB Stadium in what will be the Bulls' final home game of the season on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
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