I usually write stories about hockey, so I'm used to games lasting three periods. Still, it's disappointing when the football team goes by those guidelines as well.
Buffalo played a great football game Saturday - for the first, second and fourth quarters.
The Bulls played the heavily-favored RedHawks to a standstill in the first half, with the exception of two big plays; one on offense and one on defense. Those two plays were the difference between Buffalo being tied at the break or down 14-7.
UB did a great job weathering the storm of the first two quarters. Freedy took a sack felt throughout the stadium on the Bulls' third drive of the game, but it didn't stop him as he led a seven-play, 73-yard drive in the second quarter to tie the game up at seven.
Another hindrance to the Bulls' effort was their failure to build on other units' momentum. Right after that drive, the Buffalo defense needed a hold. The special teams couldn't afford to give the RedHawks good field position. Both faltered, if not failed miserably, on that next series.
Milt Bowen returned the kick for 54 yards. Miami's freshman quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 28 yards, and the Buffalo red zone defense, which propelled them to their only win at UConn, was called to the task one more time.
Big play coming up, fourth and three from the Buffalo 18. Miami hadn't made a field goal all season, and didn't want to start now. Coach Hoeppner had nothing but confidence in his quarterback.
The snap, everyone is covered. Roethlisberger rolls slightly to the right but stays in the pocket. Tailback Steve Little leaves the backfield and hurries up the right side of the field. The pass is lofted up the right sideline between the two players. Little wins the battle, comes up with it in the end zone. Touchdown, 14-7! One minute and 40 seconds left in the half. The wind out of their sails, it is the start of Buffalo's unraveling. Now, they're down seven at the half.
But only down seven at the half. Sure, they missed a field goal with 23 seconds left that would have made it a four-point game. Maybe that would have given them a little bit more momentum heading into the locker room, but it wasn't their only salvation. The game was still within reach. Buffalo showed they could exploit Miami's secondary, and they had bottled up Miami's running game.
To say UB was stifled during the third quarter is an understatement. Even the total yards statistic, Miami's 136 to Buffalo's negative seven, does not really do justice to what happened. I'm not sure if "total domination on all sides of the ball" could even give a good picture. They didn't just fall apart - they collapsed, imploded, self-destructed, and perhaps most importantly, got themselves in a deep hole and ended up with a big L to stare at for the next week.
No one is to blame for that quarter; no one player could have turned anything around. No one unit, even, could have done it, as offense, defense and special teams were all victimized.
The offense went three and out three consecutive times. There was a Marquis Dwarte fumble that led to a missed field goal. The defense allowed Miami to drive 77 yards right off the bat and knock in a field goal. If it weren't for those two missed Miami field goals, Buffalo would have been facing an even larger deficit.
The biggest blow during that quarter was delivered on special teams. UB Head Coach Jim Hofher knew of the speed and explosive power of Miami punt returner Eddie Tillitz.
"The punts needed to bounce and they didn't bounce," said Hofher. "They probably have a goal on their special teams board that says 'Score on the kicking game.'"
Tillitz was able to run straight up the gut and go 80 yards untouched to change the game from a two-possession game to a mountain far too steep for the Bulls to climb in just a quarter and a half.
Dwarte's fumble came on the next possession. The defense was able to stop the RedHawks' rush, and got lucky on a missed field goal that would have made it a three-touchdown game.
That 143-yard swing was unfortunately the most important statistic of the game. Buffalo played well in many other areas, picking up only six penalties for 25 yards, their most disciplined effort of the season. They ran one less play than Miami, and converted six of 17 third downs.
UB tried gamely to come back in the fourth quarter. Their first drive produced a Dwarte five-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 10. But the damage had been done. The defense couldn't hold and gave up a touchdown on the next Miami set. After that, it was just a matter of running out the clock.
Buffalo played three great quarters. If they hope to win any more games, they need to play all four. They need to convert some big plays of their own. This team has the players to do that. There are leaders on both sides of the ball willing to take responsibility, now it is up to them to make some big plays and become game breakers.