UB’s matchup against Marshall in the Camellia Bowl was a showcase of two teams in the same position.
The first college football game on Christmas Day since 2003 featured two mid-major teams that had impressive regular seasons resulting in national rankings and recognition. Despite dominant regular seasons, both UB and Marshall lost their conference championship games. UB fell to Ball State in the MAC Championship 38-28 and Marshall fell to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the Conference USA Championship 22-13.
But the team’s similarities don’t stop at their records: both team’s running backs won conference MVP honors, as junior running backs Jaret Patterson (MAC MVP) and Brenden Knox (C-USA MVP) dominated conference opponents all season.
Ironically enough, neither played in the Camellia Bowl due to injuries and preparation for the NFL Draft.
In the absence of Patterson, junior running back Kevin Marks rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown against the No. 2 rush defense in the country. Marks got his heaviest workload of the season, carrying the ball 35 times in Patterson’s absence.
Despite coming off a MAC Championship loss, the Bulls won a hard-fought defensive affair against one of the stingiest defenses in the country.
“It was a rough MAC Championship, but to come out here and do what we did today against one of the top defenses in the nation is big time,” Marks said.
For Marshall, junior running back Sheldon Evans and sophomore running back Knowledge McDaniel split carries and combined for 133 yards.
Junior quarterback Kyle Vantrease went 16-for-27 and threw for 140 yards and an interception. Senior wide receivers Jovany Ruiz and Antonio Nunn caught 11 passes and combined for 110 yards.
Despite UB being the No. 3 ranked scoring offense in the country before the game, the contest was a defensive battle that didn’t see either team exceed 300 yards of total offense.
The Bulls’ defense limited freshman quarterback Grant Wells to just 114 passing yards and held the Thundering Herd to only 248 total yards. Marshall struggled to move the ball throughout the first half but a 31-yard pass to sophomore receiver Corey Gammage positioned McDaniel at the goal line to punch in Marshall’s only touchdown of the game.
“When you’re playing a team that’s one of the top run defenses in the country, one of the top total defenses in the country, you're going to anticipate a low scoring game,” head coach Lance Leipold said after the game. “Then you take the fact that your leading rusher, and one of the nation’s best players who was named a first-team All-American by USA Today this week is not on the field for you. You figure you’re gonna lose a little punch.”
Junior linebacker James Patterson and sophomore safety Cory Gross led the Bulls with 17 combined tackles while junior defensive end Eric Black had two sacks. Black and senior linebacker Kadofi Wright had two crucial sacks during Marshall’s final offensive drive that sealed the victory for UB.
“Marshall’s a good team, they’re a chippy team, they’re fighters. You see them week in and week out playing some of the best Group of Fives in the nation, so we came into this game thinking that as a defense we had to outplay their defense,” Patterson said. “That was our mind set the whole week, and in the game we tried to play fast, play physical and play smart.”
With around 6:30 remaining in the game, a Marshall facemask call extended a UB drive. The penalty proved to be costly, as the drive lasted over 5 minutes and resulted in a Kevin Marks touchdown run with 1:09 remaining. With time winding down and the game tied at 10, the Bulls had the ball at the goal line. Instead of draining the clock and kicking a last-minute field goal, UB elected to try and score a touchdown and trust it’s defense to stop Marshall on a final drive.
The Thundering Herd moved the ball down the field, but sacks by Black and Wright stalled out the Marshall possession, giving the UB its second bowl win in program history.
After a disappointing loss in the MAC Championship Game, a Camellia Bowl victory ends the season on a high note for the Bulls.
“It’s great for our program and our players. It was disappointing a week ago, but I wasn’t disappointed in them. I was disappointed in the outcome,” Leipold said. “You see their jubilation, the celebration and the embraces, they deserve that. They deserve to end this tough 2020 year with something highly positive and feeling good about themselves, and they went out and played well against a very good team.”
The win marks the second consecutive bowl victory for the Bulls, marking the most successful period in UB football history. From going 2-10 in 2016 to becoming the most consistent team in the MAC, the growth of UB’s football program has been a marvel.
As the Bulls look to build upon back-to-back bowl victories, Leipold kept it simple when reflecting upon the program’s strides since 2017.
“Two bowl wins and we’ve won the most games in the Mid-American Conference since 2017, I’ll let you guys decide if we’re on track.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.