University at Buffalo Football

Bulls Maul Miners, 42-17

Willy throws for Division I-A record four touchdowns; Bulls defense forces three turnovers

Photo of Bryan Kisabeth
Bryan Kisabeth
BUFFALO, NY The University at Buffalo football team started the 2008 season with a bang in a textbook 42-17 victory over the University of Texas-El Paso before a paid crowd of 16,656 at UB Stadium.

Senior quarterback Drew Willy (Randolph, NJ/Randolph) led the Bulls' offense with a career-high four touchdowns through the air, while tailbacks James Starks (Niagara Falls, NY/Niagara Falls) and Brandon Thermilus (Flower Mound, TX/Marcus) each went over 100 yards rushing. The defense, meanwhile, held a Miners' offense that averaged nearly 34 points per game last year, to 266 yards of total offense and 17 points.

"That's a great win, said head coach Turner Gill. Im very excited about our program. Im very excited about our student body. Im excited for our players. Its a great win and it shows everyone that our program is moving forward definitely in the right direction.
Photo of Naaman Roosevelt
Naaman Roosevelt

In speaking about his defense, Gill said, I believe that overall our defense will be better. We have better speed than we did last year. We have a little bit more depth at certain positions. Coach Williams did an outstanding job preparing our linebacking corps and they played well. They had a great opportunity to make plays and they made them.

Said Willy of the performance, We ran the ball, we passed it, the defense played great. It was truly a team win. The offensive line did a great job protecting me, giving James and Brandon holes, Id like to give that game to them. They were physical all night, they were telling us in the huddle, keep running that rock, keep running that rock.

The Bulls got off to a fast start to the 2008 season, scoring on their first possession after a huge special teams play. After stopping UTEP in three plays, senior Alex Pierre (Hackensack, NJ/Hackensack) tackled the punter Kyle Peterson for a 13-yard loss at the UTEP 20-yard line.

After a sack pushed the Bulls back to the 15-yard line, Willy connected with senior tight end Bryan Kisabeth (Plymouth, MI/Divine Child) for the Bulls' first score of the season. Buffalo led 7-0, after a PAT by sophomore kicker A.J. Principe (Columbus, OH/St. Francis DeSales), with 11:15 left in the first quarter.

The Bulls kept the momentum on UTEP's next possession, as sophomore linebacker Justin Winters (Greenbelt, MD/Eleanor Roosevelt) intercepted a Trevor Vittatoe pass, after a deflection by cornerback Josh Thomas (Cedar Hill, TX/Cedar Hill). The Bulls, however, could not take advantage and the teams traded punts before the Bulls scored another touchdown.

The Bulls capped an 80-yard drive when Willy hit Roosevelt on a screen pass that the junior turned into a 68-yard touchdown, the longest of his career. The Bulls led 14-0 with 3:16 remaining in the first quarter.

However, the Miners would not go away quietly, as they clawed back into the game with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns to tie the game at 14-14.

The Bulls, however, mounted a tremendous drive late in the first quarter, marching 89 yards in 10 plays. Willy connected on a 23-yard pass to Roosevelt and finished the drive with a gorgeous 34-yard pass down the left sideline to senior Gary Rice (Hamilton, OH/Hamilton). The Bulls entered the half with a 21-14 lead.

Buffalo picked up right where it left off to start the third quarter to push the lead back to a pair of touchdowns. Willy went back to Roosevelt again, this time for a 56-yard bomb that Roosevelt caught in stride for the score. The Bulls led 28-14 with 13:18 left in the third quarter.
Photo of John Syty
John Syty

After UTEP kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 28-17 before the defense rose up and made a huge play early in the fourth quarter. Holding on to an 11-point lead and UTEP driving, redshirt freshman linebacker John Syty (Clarence, NY/Clarence) intercepted Vittatoe in the end zone after the ball was tipped by sophomore Sherrod Lott (Plant City, FL/Plant City).

The Bulls then put the game away in the fourth quarter by completely dominating the line of scrimmage. Buffalo drove 80 yards in nine plays to score again, with Thermilus blasting the final two yards.

After stopping UTEP on downs, Buffalo drove 9 plays and 55 yards with Thermilus ripping off a 13-yard run for the clinching score with 4:48 remaining. It was Thermilus' first two-touchdown game in his career.

Thermilus finished the game with 102 yards on 16 carries, while Starks had 179 yards on 31 carries. For the game, the Bulls averaged 5.3 yards per game. Syty added his second interception of the game on UTEP's next drive.

Defensively, Winters finished with a team-high 10 tackles, two for loss, a sack and an interception. Sophomore strong safety Davonte Shannon (Jeannette, PA/Jeannette) added eight tackles, while sophomore linebacker Tom Drewes (Dunmore, PA/Dunmore) added six tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

Roosevelt added four receptions for a career-high 154 yards (38.5 yards per catch).

UTEP coach Mike Price was impressed by the Bulls' effort: We have the biggest game in the history of the school coming up (against Texas next week) and, damn, I hope they are not as good as Buffalo.
Photo of Brandon Thermilus
Brandon Thermilus

BULL-etins: This was the first time that UB has held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter since the Oct. 4, 2007 when Ohio was scoreless after one...the 42 points scored by the Bulls are the most in a season opener in the Division I-A era...the 15-yard touchdown reception to Bryan Kisabeth was the first of his career and it was also the 546th completion of Drew Willys career. He is now the all-time leader in school history...the 68-yard touchdown pass to Naaman Roosevelt was the longest of his career...the 44-yard punt was the first of the career for Peter Fardon (Brisbane, Austrialia/Brisbane Grammar). That punt was downed inside the 20-yard line...after missing all of 2007 due to injury Tom Drewes had his first career sack and first career forced fumble on the same play in the first quarter...the 34-yard touchdown pass to Gary Rice was the first of his career..the 56-yard touchdown pass to Naaman Roosevelt was the fourth touchdown pass of the game by Drew Willy, which is a career high...the four touchdown passes by Willy are the most by a UB quarterback since Cliff Scott threw for five against New Haven on Sept. 12, 1992. That total is also the most in UBs Division I-A history...the 100-yard rushing game for James Starks was the seventh of his career...Starks' 179 yards rushing was the third highest total in Division I-A history. Starks also owns the top two performances...Starks (179 yards) and Thermilus (102) became the first two UB running backs to run for 100+ yards in the same game since Aaron Leeper and Dave Dawson each ran for over 100 yards against Marshall on Oct. 12, 2002... John Syty, in his first collegiate game, became the first UB player to intercept two passes since Mike Newton did it against Kent State on Nov. 4, 2006.

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