ORLANDO, FL – The University at Buffalo football team could not sustain a strong first half showing, giving up 16 unanswered points in the second half in falling to UCF, 23-17, at Bright House Networks Stadium before 33,689 fans.
Senior tight end Jesse Rack scored a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, but the Bulls did not dent the scoreboard after intermission in falling to the Knights, who improved to 2-1. Buffalo is 1-2 and will travel to Temple next Saturday for its Mid-American Conference opener.
"We've got to learn how to finish," said Buffalo head coach Turner Gill. "If you want to be a good football team you have to learn how to finish, you have to do it. Hopefully we can learn from this, a few games this year we started off a little slow and tonight we got that part, but we didn't finish the game here. Its a learning process that our team has to learn how to execute at the highest level throughout the whole game and Central Florida executed better than we did in the second half.
"The defense did some good things, they got us some turnovers," said Gill. "Offensively we have to take care of the ball and give ourselves a better chance to win football games."
Buffalo got big games from senior receiver Naaman Roosevelt and tight end Rack. Roosevelt had nine catches for 77 yards, while Rack had five catches for a career-best 76 yards and two scores. Sophomore quarterback Zach Maynard connected on 22-of-35 passes for 184 yards and a score, but was sacked three times, lost two fumbles and was intercepted once.
After leading 17-7 at halftime, and dominating most of the play after an opening-drive score by the Knights, the Bulls were undone by costly mistakes and a failure to capitalize on some crucial opportunities in the second half. After a fumble gave the Bulls the ball near midfield, Maynard missed a potential big-play connection with sophomore wideout Marcus Rivers on third down. However, a running into the punter penalty kept the drive alive and gave UB a first down at the UCF 31. But, the next play, Brandon Thermilus fumbled and the Knights got the ball and the momentum.
Nine plays and 73 yards later, UCF was in the end zone on a four-yard run by Brynn Harvey to cut the lead to 17-14. Buffalo's next possession also ended in a fumble when Maynard was sacked and UCF's Darius Nall recovered, setting up the game-tying field goal by Nick Cattoi from 44 yards out. With 1:19 left in the third, the game was tied at 17-17.
The Knights took the lead for good wit a 22-yard field by Cattoi with 6:02 left, capping a 59-yard drive in 14 plays.
The Bulls then failed to capitalize on what started as a promising drive. Maynard hit Roosevelt for a 25-yard completion as the senior from Buffalo, NY enjoyed another big night. UB would convert a clutch third down and three on a great catch by Rack. However, on a fourth-and-eight from the UCF 42, Maynard was intercepted and the Knights would chip in another three points for the game's final points.
Buffalo started slowly in the first half, but quickly gained momentum in building a 10-point halftime cushion. The Bulls squandered a good scoring opportunity on their first drive, moving to the UCF 33-yard line before Maynard was stopped on fourth-and-one. Buffalo had moved from its own 32-yard line to open the game, with a big 12-yard pass from Maynard to Thermilus on third down.
The Knights would draw first blood in the game on their first possession. The Knights drove 68 yards with Brynn Harvey scoring from two yards out to put the Knights on top, 7-0, after the PAT.
The Bulls would begin to seize momentum towards the end of the first quarter, when on a third-and-one play at the UCF 29, senior free safety Mike Newton stuffed Harvey short of the first down to force UCF's first punt.
Buffalo would use the momentum to go on a time-consuming 71-yard drive that took 5:12 off the clock and covered 12 plays. Maynard would hit 5-of-6 passes on the drive for 48 yards, and would cap the drive with a 6-yard pass to Rack forge a 7-7 tie. Maynard connected on a pair of clutch third down throws to keep the drive alive, an 11-yarder to Roosevelt and a 19-yarder to Rack, and also had an eight-yard run to move the Bulls inside the UCF 10-yard line.
The Bulls would keep the momentum on their side, as on the following Knight possession, freshman linebacker Darius Willis sacked quarterback Brett Hodges for an 11-yard loss to force another UCF punt.
The Bulls would take the lead for the first time in the game with some old-fashioned trickery. The Bulls would run a halfback toss, double reverse that would see Thermilus pitch the ball to Brett Hamlin, who would pitch the ball to Roosevelt who would find Rack wide open down the field for a 34-yard touchdown pass on just his second career pass attempt.
The Bulls would add more points after they forced their first turnover of the season. Linebackers Justin Winters and Scott Pettigrew would combine to sack Hodges, with Pettigrew knocking the ball loose where junior Kenny Scott recovered at the Bulls 49-yard line.
The Bulls would then drive to the Knights' 9-yard line, converting a fourth-and-two along the way, before placekicker A.J. Principe would convert on a 27-yard field goal.
The Buffalo defense, which allowed a season-low 311 yards, was paced by Newton and Winters. Newton had nine tackles (six solos), while Winters had eight solo stops, a sack, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.
BULL-etins: This was the seventh all-time meeting between the two schools, and the first in Florida since the 2003 season. The Bulls had won the previous meeting by a 48-20 score in Buffalo in 2004. UCF now leads the all-time series 6-1 and the Bulls have still never won a game in the state of Florida (0-5)...the Bulls' Lambert Cup winning 1958 team, who turned down a trip to Orlando to play in the Tangerine Bowl because African-American members of the team would not be allowed to participate, were honored at halftime as part of their weekend trip to Orlando arranged through Florida Citrus Sports, UCF and the Mayor of Orlando's office...after going 25 games between catching touchdown passes, senior tight end Jesse Rack caught a pair of TD passes in the second quarter, giving him three in the past two weeks and five in his career...Naaman Roosevelt had not thrown a pass since the 2007 season, but the former high school quarterback picked a timely opportunity to throw his second career completion when he hooked up with Rack for a 34-yard score on a double reverse...With his nine catches, Roosevelt moved to 218 career receptions, 13th overall in the history of the Mid-American Conference. Next up is Lance Moore (Toledo) at 222...the Bulls came into the game without capturing a turnover in the first two games. However, junior linebacker Justin Winters was involved in two during the game. Winters had a sack in the second quarter, that resulted in a fumble recovered by teammate Kenny Scott, and recovered a fumble himself in the third quarter after a fumbled snap...true freshman outside linebacker Darius Willis recorded the first sack of his career in the second quarter. It was Buffalo's second sack of the season...with nine tackles, senior safety Mike Newton jumped into seventh place in career tackles with 284, while his six solo stops jumped him into sixth place with 161...junior kicker A.J. Principe connected on his first field goal of the season in the first half, his 28th of his career. That ties him with Gerald Carlson (1993-96) for second all-time behind career leader Dallas Pelz (35).