By THOMAS BALDWIN
Niagara Gazette — AMHERST — Maybe there is hope for this team after all.
After six straight losses dashed all hopes of a winning season, the only thing the University at Buffalo football team could accomplish was running the table with four straight wins.
Now, the Bulls are halfway there.
In a back-and-forth game, the Bulls jumped out to an early lead, recovered from a Western Michigan onslaught, then scored the winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 29-24 victory over the Broncos on Saturday at UB Stadium.
The 11,012 who witnessed the game saw the Bulls improve to 3-7 after their second straight triumph, the first time they have won consecutive games since the end of the 2009 season. Now, UB can actually finish with a respectable 5-7 record after starting with one win its first eight games.
“I was very proud to congratulate our team,” UB head coach Jeff Quinn said . “To be able to go out against a talented team in Western Michigan and secure that win. ... It matters to our players that they went out there and secured this win.”
UB had it share of heroes in the one. Quarterback Joe Licata, making only his second career start, completed 21 of 33 passes for 285 yards and the game-winning touchdown. The recipient of that winning pass was Grand Island’s Alex Neutz, who caught nine passes for 140 yards. Cornerback Cortney Lester had three interceptions.
After blowing a big lead, the Bulls trailed 24-23 early in the fourth quarter. UB drove 77 yards in six plays and took the 29-24 lead when Licata hit a wide open Neutz for 30 yards in the corner of the end zone.
“They were sitting on the outside routes pretty well,” Neutz said. “I saw the DB (defensive back) bail off a little bit and knew we had a good shot at it, and Joe threw a perfect ball. It was almost too easy.”
But perhaps no Buffalo player made a bigger play than linebacker Jake Stockman, who was almost a huge goat before making perhaps the most important play of the game.
Three series after Neutz’s score, the Broncos drove into UB territory when quarterback Alex Carder ran the ball to the Buffalo 39 and was nailed by Stockman on the sideline. Stockman was assessed an unnecessary roughness penalty which brought the ball to Buffalo’s 24.
Two plays later, Stockman forced Carder to fumble and UB’s Colby Way recovered to thwart would could have been a potentially dangerous situation.
“It was good to help the team out after I let them down,” Stockman said. “The prior call against me, and giving up 15 yards hurt, especially in that part of the game. That was not good for the team. So it happened the play came to me and I was able to make it for the guys.”
What made the victory even more impressive is that the Bulls had two running backs go down and still persevered.
Branden Oliver went down with an ankle injury in the middle of the second quarter and did not return after gaining 75 yards on 12 carries. Devin Campbell suffered an undisclosed injury midway through the fourth quarter and also did not return. The freshman rushed 22 times for 115 yards.
UB rounds out its season in the next two weeks, with games at Massachusetts on Saturday and at Bowling Green on Nov. 23.