A 0-3 start to the season didn’t stop UB football from chasing its goal: a bowl game victory.
UB held on to eke out a win against Georgia Southern — led by former Bulls starting quarterback Kyle Vantrease — 23-21 in the Camellia Bowl Tuesday. It was UB’s third bowl win in the last four years.
“I think more than anything in today’s society, it’s easier to quit than to persevere,” Bulls head coach Maurice Linguist said in an interview with The Spectrum earlier this season. “And [the players] chose character, they chose grit and determination.”
That determination carried the Bulls to a 6-6 regular season record, coming back to win five games in a row after that 0-3 start. The Bulls finished on a 6-3 run, enough to earn them a berth in the Camellia Bowl.
For the sixth time in program history, UB took the field in a bowl game. Having won its previous two, the team sat at 2-3 all-time in bowl games.
The Camellia Bowl was familiar territory for UB. The Bulls won the 2020 edition of the game against Marshall, 17-10, with Vantrease under center. Georgia Southern and UB both finished the regular season with 6-6 records. The Bulls were five-point underdogs, according to CBS Sports.
A balanced offense and opportunistic defense proved to be the winning formula, pushing the Bulls past Georgia Southern Tuesday.
UB’s first points came in familiar fashion. Sophomore quarterback Cole Snyder completed a pass to graduate receiver Justin Marshall for a 32-yard score. The Bulls went up 7-3 with 7:46 to play in the second quarter. Marshall finished the day with a team-high 11 receptions for 127 yards, earning game MVP honors.
On the next UB drive, a 36-yard catch by Third Team All-MAC receiver Quian Williams put the Bulls in the red zone. The graduate wideout finished with 5 receptions for 100 yards.
After advancing inside the 5-yard line, UB scored with 45 seconds to play in the first half. Senior running back Tajay Ahmed rushed for a 5-yard touchdown to put the Bulls up 14-6 at halftime.
After the break, Williams fumbled in Georgia Southern territory at the end of a 35-yard reception. It was recovered by Georgia Southern junior defensive back Anthony Wilson. The Eagles took over at their own 21.
It took just one play for the Eagles to capitalize. Vantrease, who has had a career-best year after transferring to Georgia Southern from UB in the 2022 offseason, connected with freshman receiver Joshua Thompson for a 79-yard touchdown. The subsequent 2-point conversion was successful, tying the game at 14 with nearly an entire half to play.
On the next two drives, UB controlled possession and added six points via field goals. Down 20-14, the Eagles needed a touchdown to retake the lead.
The Bulls had other plans.
Vantrease threw an interception to UB senior safety Dylan Powell. The Bulls ran nearly six minutes off the clock and added another field goal to take a two-possession lead: 23-14.
On the final Eagles drive of the game, Vantrease marched his team 90 yards in five minutes. The GSU quarterback found the end zone for the second time, making it 23-21.
But, it was too little, too late.
UB killed the remaining 3:38 — and three GSU timeouts — by converting two first downs on the ground. Ahmed ran the ball 14 times in the final quarter, finishing the game with 98 yards.
For the second time in two tries, UB won the Camellia Bowl. The team’s two Camellia Bowl titles are tied for most all-time.
UB’s offense was efficient, balanced and consistent. The Bulls rushed for 122 yards and one touchdown. Snyder passed for 265 and a score. Senior kicker Alex McNulty, a First Team All-MAC selection, connected on three field goals and two extra points.
The Bulls dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for over 38 minutes (63% of the game).
UB also won the turnover battle. Both teams fumbled, but the Bulls caught the game’s only interception. Despite switching sides, Vantrease once again contributed to a UB Camellia Bowl win.
With its third straight bowl-game victory, UB evened its bowl record at 3-3.
The game was a testament to UB’s unwillingness to fold after a difficult start to the season. The Bulls continued to fight when the odds were poor. The team was rewarded with the elation of reaching its ultimate goal.
The Bulls finished the season with a 7-6 record.
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Ryan Tantalo is the managing editor of The Spectrum. He previously served as senior sports editor. Outside of the newsroom, Ryan spends his time announcing college hockey games, golfing, skiing and reading.