Bulls Bounce Zips in Rubber Bowl Finale
Buffalo becomes bowl eligible with 43-40 four overtime thriller
Buffalo pulled out a heart-pounding, nerve-tingling four overtime thriller with a 43-40 win over the University of Akron in a crucial Mid-American Conference game at the historic Rubber Bowl before 18,516 disappointed fans.
"The whole team were warriors today," said head coach Turner Gill. "I'm proud of our football team, these guys played hard and didn't give up. This game here is really what our program is all about for the future because we can now build on this big time. We've done it now...we went through a lot of ups and downs in the game and we finished, so I think this is going to take us a long way, for the future, for the now and forever."
Starks led the Bulls with 241 total yards of offense, 151 yards rushing on a career-high 37 carries and a school-record tying 13 receptions for 90 yards. In addition, Starks went over 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season. He now has 1,028 yards, fourth best in a single season and he is also the first player to have two 1,000 yard seasons in a career. Willy - celebrating his 22nd birthday - completed 27-of-39 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another score.
The Bulls took a 24-17 lead on a three-yard touchdown run by Starks early in the fourth quarter. Willy hit flanker Naaman Roosevelt on a clutch third down pass to set up the score. However, UB could not put the game away with another score and the Zips mounted a drive in the final two minutes and scored with :23 left on a one-yard run by Dennis Kennedy to force overtime.
In the first overtime, the Bulls went for it on fourth-and-one and Willy scored. However, the Zips matched the touchdown to force a second overtime. In the second overtime, both teams matched field goals with A.J. Principe hitting a clutch 24-yard kick to match Akron and force a third overtime.
In the third OT, Starks scored from one yard out, but the Bulls - as mandated by overtime rules - had to go for two points and failed. The Zips matched that score with a one-yard run from Kennedy, but the Bulls forced an incompletion and the game went on.
Then in the fourth overtime, the Bulls' defense made a game-changing play. On a first-and-10 at the UB 11, Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain fumbled with freshman Richie Smith recovering to end the Zips' chance. It was the second straight game that Smith recovered a fumble in the second half.
The Bulls took advantage. After running three times in the center of the field, Principe came in and drilled a 40-yard field goal to give the Bulls the monumental victory. It was Principe's longest field goal of the year and his three field goals in the game were a season high.
"It felt great," said Principe. "After Central Michigan it was obviously tough (when he missed a last-second field goal that would have won the game). Coach just said you're going to get another shot later in the season. It was the best ball I hit all year. I stroked it a little left but it came right back down the center."
The Bulls never trailed in regulation and for the third straight week the Bulls took their opening drive down the field for a touchdown. Willy had a record-breaking opening drive as the Bulls had a crucial third down conversion and a huge fourth down conversion.
Willy converted a fourth down and six at the Akron 38-yard line with a 13-yard completion to Roosevelt, overcoming a chop block that had put Buffalo into a third-and-18 situation. Three plays later, Willy hit Roosevelt on a crossing pattern and the nifty flanker zig-zagged his way through the Akron defense for a 24-yard touchdown. On the play, Willy became Buffalo's career leader in both passing yards - breaking Cliff Scott's career mark of 7,578 yards - and career touchdown passes (45), one ahead of Marty Barrett's school mark that had stood for 25 years.
Buffalo survived an Akron scoring chance on the next drive as the Zips drove to the UB 10-yard line before the Bulls stiffened and the Zips missed a 27-yard field goal.
Buffalo took the ball and added to their lead, driving 69 yards on seven plays, capped by a 28-yard field goal by Principe. The key play in the drive was a 35-yard run by Starks.
Akron got right back in the game in one play after the UB kickoff. Quarterback Chris Jacquieman beat a UB blitz with a screen pass to Dennis Kennedy and the senior sprinted 57 yards for a touchdown. After the PAT, Akron trailed 10-7 with 4:53 to go in the first quarter.
The Bulls finished the first quarter with a time advantage of 13:15-1:45. The two teams then squandered great opportunities to score. Buffalo went on a time-consuming 17-play drive all the way to the Akron six-yard line before coming up empty when Principe's 23-yard field goal was blocked.
The Zips then moved quickly down the field - traveling 60 yards in just three plays - before a costly personal foul moved the Zips back to the 33-yard line where kicker Igor Iveljic missed a 50-yard field goal to keep the score 10-7 in favor of the Bulls.
Buffalo took advantage of the opportunity with another long, time-consuming drive. Utilizing 11 straight running plays - in which sophomore tailback Brandon Thermilus rushed the ball seven times for 56 yards. It was Starks who finished the drive, going in from three yards out to make the score 17-7 - after the Principe PAT - with 4:48 left in the half.
The Zips would close the scoring in the first half with a 49-yard field goal by Iveljic to make it 17-10 at halftime. The Bulls ran 49 plays in the first half compared to Akron's 22.
The stars for the Bulls were plenty. Roosevelt finished with nine receptions for 111 yards - going over 100 yards receiving for the fourth time this year. Safety Mike Newton led the UB defense with 12 tackles, including one for loss. Junior cornerback Kendric Hawkins matched his career-high 11 tackles, a forced fumble and three pass breakups. Davonte Shannon and Justin Winters added 10 tackles apiece.
BULL-etins: This was the tenth meeting between the two schools...it was the first win for the Bulls at the Rubber Bowl and UB is now 2-8 all-time against the Zips, UB was 0-8 before winning the last two games in the series...the Bulls went 5-for-5 on fourth downs converted on their 15th fourth down conversion of the season in the first half. UB is now 16-of-20 on fourth down conversions this season...the Bulls have now scored on their opening possession three straight games and five times on the season...the 8:43 scoring drive that spanned the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter by the Bulls was their longest scoring drive of the season...the Bulls have now recovered at least one fumble in eight straight games...UB played in its third overtime of the season. That is a new high for overtimes in a year. This is the first time that an overtime has occurred on the road...this was UB's first ever four-overtime game and was just the second four overtime game in MAC history...the Bulls improved to 2-1 on the season in OT and 5-3 all-time in overtime...the MAC has had one five overtime game...UB and Akron set a new UB school record for combined plays between two teams...the teams combined for 168 plays breaking the school record of 166 set against Alfred in 1980 and John Carroll in 1989...the Bulls now have 301 points on the season which is a Division I-A record. The school record is 319 set in 1992...the 24-yard touchdown pass by Drew Willy was the 45th of his career moving him into sole possession of first place on the all-time school record list. Willy also broke the school record for career passing yards on that throw...the field goal in the first quarter by A.J. Principe was the 23rd of his career, putting him in sole possession of third place on the all-time career field goal list in school history...the 100-yard rushing game by James Starks was his fifth of the season and 11th of his career. He is now in third place for 100 rushing yards in a season and in second place for 100 rushing yards in a career..Starks has now had at least two touchdowns in each of the last three games...the tenth reception by James Starks was a career high...his previous high was nine against Miami last season. The 13 receptions tie a school record for receptions in a game. The record was held by Chaz Ahmed who had 13 catches against Mercyhurst on Oct. 27, 1990...the 37 rushes by James Starks set a new career high. He had 36 carries against Ohio on Oct. 6, 2007. That mark also moves him into sole possession of second place for carries in a game...the record is 41 set by O.D. Underwood in 1986. Starks tied a career high with three rushing touchdowns....Kendric Hawkins tied his career high with 11 tackles...Naaman Roosevelt moved into fourth place on the all-time career receiving yards list with 2,149 yards. Roosevelt now has six career 100 yard receiving games which is tied for fifth in school history. Roosevelt also moves into fourth place for career all purpose yards... A.J. Principe moves into second place with 140 total points scored by kickers. Dallas Pelz holds that record with 147.
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