A week after Buffalo’s recent snowstorm, UB (6-6, 5-3 MAC) defeated Akron (2-10, 1-7 MAC) 23-22 to become bowl-eligible last Friday.
With the win, UB secured its fourth bowl-game appearance of the last five years. Though the story had a happy ending for the Bulls, victory didn’t come easy in their contest against the Zips.
In their matte-black uniforms, the Bulls took the field at UB Stadium against an Akron team that has struggled for most of this season.
On the opening possession of the game, junior safety Marcus Fuqua intercepted Akron junior quarterback Jeff Undercuffer and returned the ball to Akron’s 12-yard line. Gifted a golden opportunity, the Bulls offense sputtered inside the Zips redzone. Forced to a 4th and 2, the Bulls elected to go for it. That move would be a harbinger of things to come. The Bulls came up short of the line to gain, turning the ball back over to the Akron offense.
The Zips were granted a mulligan, and they seized the opportunity. Starting at their own three-yard line, Akron moved the ball down the field. A few plays later, Undercuffer threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to George to cap off the 11-play, 97-yard drive. With the extra point, the Zips opened the scoring at 7-0.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the Bulls. On the ensuing drive, a fumbled football on a punt attempt out of their own end zone resulted in an Akron safety, increasing their lead to 9-0.
Chasing nine points, head coach Maurice Linguist looked to his defense to make a stand, which he would do throughout the game. To their credit, the UB defense did its job, forcing an Akron punt.
But UB’s offense, led by junior quarterback Cole Snyder, was struggling to move the ball. They finished the first quarter with a measly 10 yards of total offense.
Desperately needing a spark against the two-win Zips, the Bulls got the opposite. A fumble on UB’s first offensive snap of the second quarter gave Akron the ball inside of Bulls’ territory.
The Zips struck paydirt only a few plays later when Undercuffer found sophomore wide receiver Alex Adams for a one-yard touchdown. The extra point made it 16-0 in Akron’s favor.
At the 12-minute mark of the second quarter, UB finally got its first first down of the game. But that drive stalled after another first down. Linguist decided to take the points, sending out senior kicker Alex McNulty, who knocked down the 43-yard field goal to bring the score to 16-3.
UB’s offense finally began to move the ball with consistency when Snyder found graduate wide receiver Justin Marshall on a 38-yard touchdown pass. The Bulls found themselves down 16-10 at the half.
The Bulls failed to score on the opening possession of the second half, they scored first in the second half, when Snyder found Marshall for his second touchdown of the game. UB’s 17 unanswered points put them in the lead for the first time of the game.
UB’s defense finally faltered in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, when redshirt sophomore running back Clyde Price III ran for a 17-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion put the Zips up 22-17.
Snyder got the ball with 4:55 remaining in the game, needing a touchdown to send the Bulls to a bowl game. The offense moved the ball, with the help of a few penalties, to about midfield, where Snyder made a brutal mental gaffe. A deep ball intended for junior receiver Marlyn Johnson was picked off by Akron sophomore cornerback Tyson Durant and returned all the way to the Buffalo 38-yard line.
But with only 3:16 left in the game, the Zips made a game-altering mistake: they fumbled a handoff, giving the Bulls new life.
UB fell on the loose ball, and Snyder — with the help of the rushing attack — moved the ball deep into Akron territory. With 1:15 left in the game, Snyder connected with graduate wide receiver Quian Williams on a back-shoulder touchdown. The Bulls failed on the two-point conversion, and UB had the lead 23-22.
All Akron needed was a field goal to break UB’s heart.
The Zips’ drive began at their 40-yard line courtesy of McNulty, who made an illegal kick out of bounds. But with 1:03 left in the game, Fuqua intercepted Undercuffer and intentionally downed the ball at the Buffalo 41-yard line, sealing the game.
The same player who had the first big play for the Bulls closed the game out and secured UB’s sixth bowl game bid in history.
The Bulls will face Georgia Southern — led by former Bulls quarterback Kyle Vantrese — in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 27 in Montgomery, Alabama. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
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