Panthers take early lead, hold on for 20-6 win
Junior cornerback Najja Johnson (22) looks on as Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham (1) scores the touchdown in the third quarter of Saturday’s game at UB Stadium. The 20-6 loss drops Buffalo’s record to 1-6 on the season. Reimon Bhuyan /// The Spectrum
The football team hoped playing at UB Stadium for the first time in a month would propel it to a big homecoming victory.
Those hopes were dashed, as the undermanned Bulls (1-6, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) were unable to find any momentum on offense and lost 20-6 to Pittsburgh (3-4, 0-3 Big East) on Saturday afternoon.
Buffalo was without its top impact players on offense - junior wide receiver Alex Neutz and junior running back Branden Oliver were among the six offensive players who didn't play - and it showed, as UB's offense struggled to finish drives.
Although they had a total of 22 first downs to Pitt's 13 and outgained the Panthers in total yards 334 to 254, the Bulls were unable to cash in when they needed it most. It's something that has been the tone of the season lately.
"You look at numbers and you think that you're going to win the game," said junior quarterback Alex Zordich. "It's just frustrating. We're all tired of it. We don't quit, that's a good thing, but we want to win. It's really frustrating."
There were few big plays in this game. Both teams seemed afraid to take significant shots downfield, instead choosing to grind out yards on the ground. But a major mistake by the Bulls set the tone for the game. Zordich tossed a second-quarter interception to Pittsburgh's Jason Hendricks, who returned it 23 yards to the Buffalo 27-yard line. That set up the first touchdown of the game, a four-yard run by Rushel Shell that gave the Panthers a 13-0 lead.
It was a throw that changed the complexion of the game and one Zordich obviously wanted back.
"The safety [Hendricks] did a good job on that play," Zordich said. "Shouldn't have thrown it, should have seen it, and it's just unfortunate. It cost our team some points, and it's frustrating."
Zordich was a beast on the ground, rushing for 94 yards, but he was unable to find consistent success in the passing game. He did find a reliable target in sophomore wide receiver John Dunmore. Though Dunmore entered the game with only three catches in his career, he secured seven catches for 72 yards.
With injuries to Neutz and junior wide receiver Fred Lee - who is nursing a left hand injury - Dunmore was important for the Bulls. According to him, it's something he gets ready for weekly, regardless of who is on the injury report.
"I always have that 'Next Bull In' mentality, so every week I try preparing myself like I'm going to start," Dunmore said.
Freshman running back Devin Campbell, another player who in the beginning of the season seemed unlikely to get significant playing time this year, bounced back from a subpar performance last week against Northern Illinois (7-1, 4-0 MAC) by rushing for 104 yards on 19 carries. He became the first true freshman in UB's modern Division I era to have two 100-yard rushing games in a season.
The loss leaves the Bulls without a win against Football Bowl Subdivison (FBS) competition this season, as they end the non-conference portion of the schedule. They will play their last five games of the season against MAC competition. It doesn't get any easier, as Buffalo will face MAC West powerhouse Toledo (7-1, 4-0 MAC) next Saturday at UB Stadium.
The Rockets are flying high, coming off a 29-23 upset win against Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0 Big East), which was previously ranked 21st in the country. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
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