After a tough 28-25 loss to 16th-ranked Coastal Carolina last week, the Bulls (2-2) staved off a furious late-game comeback to defeat the Old Dominion Monarchs (1-3), 35-34, at S.B. Ballard Stadium Saturday.
Despite carrying a sizable 35-7 lead into halftime, UB’s defense fell apart down the stretch and allowed 27 unanswered points. The Monarchs needed an extra point to tie it near the end of regulation, but a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed them out of chip-shot territory and contributed to a shanked kick.
While the Bulls nearly let the game spiral out of control, UB head coach Maurice Linguist says he’s proud of his team for getting the job done and coming out with a road victory to end non-conference play.
“I’m proud of the team for finding a way to battle and come away with a one-point victory on the road,” Linguist said in the post-game press conference. “There’s so many elements involved in these road games that impact the overall outcome of the game but I’m proud of them for finding a way to win. I’ve been a part of these games where a play doesn’t happen here or a play doesn’t happen there and you have these conversations after a loss but we’re having it after a win.”
While the Bulls’ point production often comes from their run game, it was UB’s strong defensive and special teams play in the first half that allowed for an early lead.
Sophomore defensive end C.J. Bazile started the first half scoring frenzy with a blocked field goal, which he returned 90 yards the other way to give UB a 7-0 lead.
After both teams had punts and kicks blocked in the first quarter, Linguist credited Bazile’s block and score as a huge momentum swing for the Bulls.
“C.J.’s blocked kick return for a touchdown was that catalyst we needed and it gave us a lot of momentum beginning in the first half,” Linguist said. “I think both teams could point out that the kicking game was an area that went back and forth.”
While UB normally relies on its run-heavy offense, the Bulls were able to move the ball down the field early in the game. Senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease completed 17 of 26 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He connected with senior wideout Quian Williams nine times for 134 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown halfway through the second quarter to increase the lead to 21-7.
Old Dominion looked disoriented in the first half but was able to pull out 27 unanswered points in the second. Junior quarterback D.J. Mack Jr. flipped the switch and took over with his legs, rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
UB couldn’t seem to match the offensive and defensive intensity they had in the first and punted four times in the second half, leaving the door wide open for ODU to trim the lead.
After scoring 21 unanswered points and surviving a late forced fumble by senior linebacker James Patterson, ODU found themselves with the ball in UB territory with a couple of minutes to go. With just 19 seconds remaining, Mack Jr. found redshirt sophomore tight end Zack Kuntz for the touchdown, making the game 35-34.
The Monarchs were given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a sideline celebration, resulting in a loss of 15 yards. The penalty backed up the Monarchs to Buffalo’s 18-yard line. Unable to go for the two-point conversion to take the lead in stunning fashion, ODU’s kicker was tasked with a 35-yard extra point.
Linguist credited his defense’s ability to stay calm during such a high-pressure situation late in the game.
“Poise is the answer,” Linguist said. “We talk about poise in pressure moments in the locker room all the time. We got the fumble on the previous possession and had another opportunity on the final possession but were unable to get it. They’re big time heavyweight fights, that’s what they are. You’re not always going to have pretty and perfect games but at the end of the day, we did what we had to do to get the ‘W.’”
After a dominant first half, UB’s second half collapse was as puzzling as it is concerning. The Bulls had multiple missed opportunities to secure a win, but the offense wasn’t able to do its job.
Linguist says he sees his team’s ability to hang with out-of-conference competitors as a signal that they are ready to move on and prepare for in-conference play next weekend.
“I love my guys. There’s a lot of accountability in this locker room and as a coach, you appreciate that, even after a win,” Linguist said. “I told them I love ‘em, we’re going to watch this film and correct what we need to correct and move forward from there for in-conference play.”
The Bulls will look to address their prior mistakes and start in-conference play with a win when they host the Western Michigan Broncos on Saturday, Oct. 2 at noon at UB Stadium. The game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network.
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com or @HunterSkoczylas on Twitter
Hunter Skoczylas is the sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found looking up random sports statistics, jamming to Fleetwood Mac and dedicating his Sunday afternoons to watching the Buffalo Bills.