UB Bulls get back to .500, defeat Miami Ohio 29-24

Buffalo avoids late game theatrics from RedHawks


A 76-yard interception return for a touchdown could have been the start of an upset in the making for the football team Thursday.

But a vintage performance from Joe Licata, combined with a valiant running effort from Jordan Johnson helped prevent that.

The interception was one of the few errors Licata made all night as the Bulls (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) defeated Miami Ohio (1-8, 0-5 MAC) 29-24 on Thursday at Yager Stadium. The victory puts the Bulls at .500 with four games left and a chance to go to a Bowl game for the first time since the 2013 season.

After Licata’s interception, he didn’t make a mistake the entire game. And he made up for the lone mistake almost instantly.

His next pass after the interception went 78 yards and into the hands of senior wide receiver Ron Willoughby for the team’s first touchdown of the game. Licata, a senior quarterback, went 22-of-29 passing for 289 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

In his last two games, Licata has completed 70 percent of his passes and turned the ball over just once with three total touchdowns.

“It was a good game by all,” Licata said. “It’s not easy to play on Saturday and come back on five days rest and get the victory, so I give the credit to my teammates for a group effort for the victory and getting back to .500.”

Licata found nine different receivers. Senior tight end Matt Weiser caught five passes for 56 yards, while Willoughby hauled in just two catches, but for 87 yards and two touchdowns.

Leipold said the offense came out with the intent to attack the Miami Ohio secondary.

“We came out and took a shot,” Leipold said. “We wanted to get some shots downfield in this game, over the sideline and over the middle. Joe made some great throws and of course, there were a couple throws. He had another solid game and got us in position for the victory.”

Licata’s biggest ally offensively was the man behind him. In his second career start, Johnson, a junior running back, continued his torrent pace, finishing with 28 carries, 123 yards and two touchdowns. It was Johnson’s ability to take several carries that allowed the Bulls to control the tempo throughout.

Johnson took over the starting role in light of senior Anthone Taylor’s lingering ankle injury. Taylor played Thursday, but in a limited role. He finished with 10 carries for 28 yards.

“I thought [Johnson] played really well,” Leipold said, “Like any back, he just needs a ton of carries to get going. We knew what that once he got going, he was tough to stop, so it became get the ball to him on back-to-back plays and things of that nature.”

After the game, Leipold said both of his starting guards, sophomore Brandon Manosalvas and senior Dillon Guy missed the final quarter of the game with injuries. Both are being evaluated.

Despite the close score, the Bulls put together a great defensive performance and continued to make plays against a young RedHawk offense. After earning MAC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Ohio last week, senior linebacker Okezie Alozie continued his strong play with 2.5 tackles for losses and one of the team’s two sacks.

The Bulls had their own fare of tough opponents early in the season, facing Penn State and Nevada in the non-conference and two of the tougher conference opponents in Bowling Green and Central Michigan. Now, three of Buffalo’s next four opponents have sub-.500 records in conference play.

“Right now, we’re 0-0,” Johnson said. “We’re taking this one game at a time and anything is possible. We want to make that run toward winning a MAC Championship and making a bowl game, the time is now. We have to keep it up and playing we’re playing now to have a chance.”

The Bulls face Kent State (3-5, 2-2 MAC) on the road Thursday at Dix Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is the senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.