UB Bulls overcome 11-point deficit, defeat Kent State

Buffalo now just win away from bowl eligibility

The football team’s chance for a win looked bleak once senior wide receiver Marcus McGill dropped a pass on 4th and 19 with three minutes left and down and Buffalo down by six.

But a Kent State pass interference call kept the Bulls’ drive alive. Six plays later, a resilient Joe Licata erased what had been an 11-point deficit with the game-winning touchdown pass.

The Bulls (5-4, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) defeated the Golden Flashes (3-6, 2-3 MAC) 18-17 Thursday night in Kent, Ohio to move one step closer to bowl eligibility. The Bulls are currently on a three-game win streak and are one victory away from being Bowl eligible.

“We’ve been given those opportunities,” Licata said, “but we couldn’t come through in the clutch. [Thursday], we just made clutch plays when we needed to. It was very exciting.”

The Bulls were inches away from losing the game when Licata threw an incomplete pass to McGill down the field that looked like it was broken up to give the Golden Flashes the ball back. But a pass interference call kept the drive alive and gave Licata another chance to take the lead.

Later in the drive, Licata completed another huge third-down conversion to senior tight end Matt Weiser in the red zone with less than two minutes to play. Two plays later, Licata connected to Weiser with a Brett Favre-like shovel pass that just scratched the surface of the goal line for a touchdown and a one-point lead.

“As you can see, [Licata] just never gives up and never stops battling,” said head coach Lance Leipold about the touchdown pass to Weiser. “He stays in the pocket. He makes a little bit of a scramble play. I didn’t know if he was over the line of scrimmage or not. That’s just the way Joe keeps competing and making plays for us.”

Buffalo trailed 17-6 with 1:32 left in the third before it began its comeback. The Bulls began to erase its 11-point deficit. And it began to do it in style. With 11:21 left, Licata found senior wide receiver Ron Willoughby in single coverage running down the right sideline.

Licata made a wide throw in the end zone, but Willoughby brushed away slight pass interference and made a one-handed catch to make it a one possession game. Licata’s follow-up pass for a two-point conversion was patted down at the line to keep it a 5-point game.

“A lot of people would think that Joe would be nervous in that situation, but a fifth-year senior has been through that and those situations before,” Willoughby said of Licata’s touchdown throw. “We have all the trust in the world in Joe.”

Licata had another impressive performance, but he had a rough second quarter. The Bulls held a 6-0 lead at the beginning of the quarter, but an ill-timed pass went into the hands of Kent State cornerback Demetrius Monday, who ran it back 69 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 Kent State lead.

Licata finished with 190 passing yards and two touchdowns and one interception while completing 25 of 39 passes.

The Golden Flashes’ front seven held true to its dominating ways and limited perhaps the best rushing attack in the conference. A healthy Anthone Taylor returned to the lineup as the featured back, but his snaps were still split with junior Jordan Johnson. Taylor and Johnson ran for 64 and 60 yards, respectively. Johnson punched in the only Buffalo running score of the day.

Senior linebacker Okezie Alozie defended his MAC East Defensive Player of the Week honor with another remarkable performance. He dropped into coverage, ran impressive pursuit angles and got in for a key sack in the fourth quarter. He finished with a team-high 12 tackles, including four tackles for losses. He also had a sack.

“Obviously, it wasn’t perfect, but we did a great job of rallying to the football,” Alozie said. “They have guys who can make guys miss, but we did a good job of getting guys to the ball. If one guy missed, there was another guy to bring him down.”

The Bulls are now one win away from possibly clinching its second Bowl trip in three years. Buffalo will need to win at least one of its last three to get the six wins needed to be bowl eligible.

The Bulls return to UB Stadium to play Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-0 MAC) on Wednesday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.