Bulls look like team to beat in the MAC

The Buffalo Bulls bludgeoned the defending Mid-American Conference champions on Tuesday night, putting on an aerial show inside a vacant UB Stadium and bolstering their postseason prospects with a blowout victory.

Playing at home for the first time in 347 days and shining in the ESPN MACtion spotlight for the second straight week, UB routed Miami back to Ohio. The decisive 42-10 win over an opponent co-favored in the MAC East established the Bulls (2-0) as the team to beat in the division title race.

“Every win is a statement win,” UB quarterback Kyle Vantrease said. “But this one especially puts us on the map.”

UB’s 2020 campaign gained momentum with the emergence of an explosive passing attack, augmenting the strong ground game and formidable defense that were bulwarks of the Bulls’ big finish to last season and high expectations for this one.

Vantrease hit career-highs throwing for 353 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover, the best performance by a UB passer since before Tyree Jackson declared for the NFL Draft. Antonio Nunn (five catches, 137 yards) and Trevor Wilson (two catches, 103 yards) became the first UB wideout tandem with 100 yards in the same game since 2017, when Nunn and Anthony Johnson accomplished the feat.

Vantrease took advantage of the RedHawks stacking their defense to stop UB’s running game and unleashed the two longest scoring passes of his career, a 78-yarder to Wilson, a swift redshirt freshman, and an 82-yarder to Nunn, the reliable senior who topped 100 yards for the second straight week. Vantrease also tossed touchdowns to tight end Zac Lefebvre (four catches, career-high 67 yards) and Jovany Ruiz (three catches, 27 yards), a senior walk-on from Fredonia who scored his first college touchdown.

Overcoming early inconsistencies, Vantrease led four touchdown drives covering 309 yards in succession during the second half. Vantrease completed all nine of his passes for 229 yards and three scores during that stretch, and after standing in the pocket and taking a hit to deliver the long strike to Nunn, UB led 42-7 with 13:36 remaining. After going scoreless for the first 20 minutes, the Bulls' slowest start in eight games, they found the end zone six times in a span of 25:44.

While UB avenged a 34-20 defeat at Miami last September, Vantrease exorcised demons from a loss to the RedHawks in an emergency start as a true freshman in 2017.

Kevin Marks led UB’s reliable rushing attack, gaining 109 yards on 16 carries and becoming the ninth player in UB history to surpass 2,000 yards for his career. That occurred just before Jaret Patterson passed 3,000 yards faster than any UB back and tied Alan Bell (3,022 yards) for fourth on the school’s all-time rushing list. Patterson snapped a streak of seven straight 100-yard games, carrying 20 times for 73 yards, but scored twice to break Niagara Falls native James Starks’ school record with 38 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns.

In 29 games splitting carries for the Bulls, Patterson and Marks have combined for 5,415 scrimmage yards and 59 touchdowns.

With consecutive wins against the past two MAC champions, UB has built upon a late surge to finish last season.

“We know we had a rough start last year at the beginning of the season, and we knew we couldn’t have that to go to the championship this year, or even make a run,” Marks said. “Coming out fast is big in what we have to do to win games this year.”

Since Vantrease took over as the starting quarterback following an injury to West Seneca native Matt Myers in last year’s loss at Miami, UB has gone 8-2 with a scoring margin of nearly three touchdowns. The Bulls have averaged more than 30 points on offense, topping 40 in six games, while the defense has given up 17 points on average and added to the scoring ledger with seven touchdowns of its own.

UB coach Lance Leipold downplayed the significance of the victory margin, noting that Miami’s starting quarterback Brett Gabbert missed the game with a head injury. RedHawks receivers also dropped several long passes that would have extended drives and likely made the score closer.

But the Bulls weren’t at full health themselves, playing without four defensive starters: defensive end Taylor Riggins, lineman Ronald McGee, and cornerbacks Aapri Washington and Ali Abbas.

UB’s defense was effective in forcing Miami 3 of 14 on third downs, and had the game’s only turnover when Roy Baker recorded his first career interception in his second game starting in the UB secondary.

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