Late Ball State Score Provides Difference as Bulls Fall 28-25
MUNCIE, IN – It was a tale of two halves and a couple of key plays in Buffalo's Mid-American Conference opener at Ball State on Saturday night.
The Bulls rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit, scoring 18 straight points, but saw a missed PAT and several crucial fourth down conversions by Ball State on its final drive spell the difference in a heartbreaking 28-25 loss in front of 8,694 fans at Scheumann Stadium.
Buffalo went to halftime trailing by two touchdowns after a dominant first half performance by the host Cardinals. Ball State had 250 first-half yards and after spotting Buffalo an early touchdown score three straight touchdowns and looked to be in command of the game.
But it was a different Bulls team that took the field in the second half. Led by tailback Branden Oliver – who went over 100 yards for the third straight game – quarterback Chazz Anderson, who threw for one score and ran for another, and a swarming defense, UB looked primed to win on the road against a West Division opponent for the first time in its MAC history.
However, after Anderson's second rushing touchdown of the season from one yard out gave the Bulls a 25-21 lead with 6:28 remaining in the game, Buffalo could not get the key defensive stop it needed to secure the win. The Cardinals were able to move 75 yards on 18 time-consuming plays to score the game-winner on a four-yard pass with just :29 left.
The key to the drive was a pair of fourth-down and long conversions that kept the drive alive. The Bulls had one more chance, but Anderson's Hail Mary on the game's final play was knocked down and UB fell to 1-2 on the season and 0-1 in the MAC play.
"We did not play four quarters of football tonight and the final result showed it," said head coach Jeff Quinn. "I asked them at halftime if that was their best effort, and I think to a man that it certainly wasn't. The second half we showed more effort, we had our chances but there were mistakes out there tonight that cost us. At the end we had them down to two fourth down plays, and we told them it would was going to come down to the last few plays, but we obviously didn't like the way it finished…it was a very difficult loss."
Oliver finished the game with 118 yards on 27 carries, while Anderson ran for 59 yards on 10 carries and threw for 149 yards and a touchdown. Marcus Rivers had six catches for 74 yards and Alex Neutz added 78 yards on four catches with both reaching the end zone.
Defensively, the Bulls allowed just 150 yards in the second half and half of them came on the Cardinals final drive as their play allowed UB to climb back in the game. Linebacker Khalil Mack continued his stellar play with a career-high 11 tackles, including two for losses, while Jaleel Verser also added a career-best 11 tackles. Cornerback Najja Johnson also had an outstanding game with four tackles and four passes broken up, just one shy of the school record.
After Ball State missed a field goal on the first drive of the second half, the Bulls got themselves back in the game on Ball State's next drive on a big special teams play. Junior Jaleel Verser broke through on a punt attempt and recorded a block that changed the momentum. On first down, Anderson carried for 13 yards on a quarterback scramble and two plays later, Oliver broke through two tackles and drove into the end zone from 10 yards out. However, the PAT was blocked and Buffalo trailed 21-13. It would turn out to be a costly miss.
After a defensive stop for the Bulls, on a solo tackle by Khalil Mack, on a third-and-one, the Bulls looked poised to score again. Anderson connected twice with sophomore wideout Neutz for a total of 26 yards and Anderson added a career-long 20 yard scramble to move the ball inside the Ball State 30-yard line. However, a sack on third down knocked the Bulls out of field goal range and they were forced to punt.
However, the Bulls were unbowed. The defense again forced a three-and-out and after a 17-yard return by Terrell Jackson, Anderson went up top and hit Neutz for a 45-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline on the first play. It was Neutz' first touchdown of the season. However, the try for two points was incomplete and UB trailed, 21-19 with 13:58 left in the game.
Another defensive stand, on three straight incompletions by Ball State, would set up UB's longest drive of the season as Buffalo drove 86 yards in 14 plays to take its first lead since the first quarter. Anderson had an 18-yard carry and Oliver a 17-yard burst to get the drive moving. Oliver burst 16 yards on a and second-and-17 to play and bulled forward for a first down on third-and-one to set UB up in position for Anderson to sneak across from a yard out behind center Graham Whinery and left guard Dillon Guy.
However, Ball State had some dramatic plays left in them and were able to send their fans home jubilant with a last-second touchdown.
It looked like it might be Buffalo's night early on as UB struck quickly on its first drive of the game. Marcus Rivers was the star of Buffalo's first possession catching a 24-yard pass from Anderson to get the chains moving, and completing the drive on a 27-yard touchdown catch on a flanker reverse with Terrell Jackson throwing the strike for paydirt. It was Rivers' first touchdown of the season.
The Cardinals would tie the game early in the second quarter on a 72-yard drive. Ball State tailback Jahwan Edwards was the central figure on the drive and capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run with 14:11 left in the half.
Ball State would take their first lead of the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Keith Wenning to Brooks Orsbon with 4:39 left in the half. Wenning and Orsbon had a 21-yard hookup earlier in the drive.
BULL-etins: Buffalo's captains were Gordon DuBois, Jake Schum, Graham Whinery and Branden Oliver…senior flanker Terrell Jackson's touchdown pass in the first quarter was the second of his career. Jackson threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Rack on 11/18/09 at Miami (OH)…senior defensive end Gordon DuBois registered a sack in the first half for the Bulls. He now has 4.5 for his career…the third quarter touchdown by Branden Oliver was his fifth of the season. The sophomore has scored in each game this season…Oliver became the first UB player since all-time leading rusher James Starks to run for over 100 yards in three straight games. Starks had four straight 100-yard performances in 2008…the blocked punt by Jaleel Verser in the third quarter was the first by a Bull since Tom Drewes did it at Central Michigan on 9/27/08…Chazz Anderson's 20-yard scramble in the second half was his longest rush of the season. He added an 18-yard scramble in the fourth quarter.