By Matt Parrino email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — The University at Buffalo football team knew what it had to do to beat Bowling Green for the Mid-American Conference regular season title Friday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium: win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Last season the Falcons won that battle, holding the Bulls to only 29 yards rushing for the game, and in doing so beat UB, 21-7.
Buffalo knew exactly what Bowling Green was going to try to do, but it had no answers once again, as BG out-rushed the Bulls — 260 yards to 15 — en route to a 24-7 victory to secure a spot in the MAC title game in Detroit against Northern Illinois.
“They whipped us up front,” said UB head coach Jeff Quinn. “I said it, when we went into this game last year, that we needed to play better up front, and we didn’t do that. Give Bowling Green credit too. It wasn’t anything schematically, it was just the one one one match ups where, at times, we had some break downs.
“They’re a good defense and we knew it, but we see a good defense every day (in practice), and I felt we made a lot of progress,” Quinn continued. “I expected us to move the ball a lot better than we did.”
The Bulls defense kept them in the game in the first half, stopping the Falcons on all six of their third down attempts. But besides a well-executed drive in the second quarter that resulted in a 2-yard Branden Oliver touchdown run, the UB offense just couldn’t generate any sustained success against a tough Bowling Green defense.
“We had a great plan coming in and we knew what they were going to do to us. We just didn’t execute,” said Bulls QB Joe Licata, who went 21 for 45 passing with an interception. “They didn’t fool us with anything, it just came down to them beating us. … They did a great job up front and at the corner position. They’re a very good football team.”
The Bulls led 7-3 at halftime and both teams were dominating on the defensive side of the ball. In the first half BG quarterback Matt Johnson was unimpressive, completing only 3 of 11 passes, two of which were almost intercepted. But after an interception early in the second half by the BG signal caller, he settled in and started to make big plays.
He finished with 230 yards passing, 72 yards on the grounds and a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). He sealed the game on a 62-yard hookup with BG wide receiver Shaun Joplin to set up the Falcons’ third touchdown of the day. Joplin caught six balls for 149 yards and a touchdown.
“It was a disappointing loss. Bowling Green is a good football team and they made more plays than us today,” Quinn said. “We’re certainly proud of our senior class — being able to secure eight wins. It’s to their credit, and it’s what I’ve expected from them since they stepped foot on this campus. We didn’t want to end the regular season like this, but I’m excited at the opportunity of potentially one more game. It’s just a disappointing loss.”
The Bulls are bowl eligible and are hoping to have a chance to play one more game, especially seniors Oliver, Grand Island’s Alex Neutz and potential first round NFL pick Khalil Mack.
Mack recorded 12 tackles on the day, including 2.5 for a loss to tie the all-time NCAA record. Neutz caught six passes for 66 yards in his last home game in a Bulls uniform.
Quinn said it’s an especially tough loss because the program, which has struggled since he arrived four years ago, finally started to build some momentum this season. The Bulls won eight games and put together a seven-game win streak for the first time in program history.
“I don’t think a lot of people thought we could get to eight wins at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I know I felt strongly that we had good leadership and our coaching staff would add to our ability to be where we’re at today. There’s been a lot of progress made in our football program here. It’s my job to make sure this one particular game doesn’t define this program.”Follow @MattParrino on Twitter for complete local sports coverage.