In what has become a low-down, no-good, feel-bad season, the Bobcats etched another regrettable chapter on Saturday.
Visiting Ohio raced out to a 21-0 first quarter lead, but only had another gut-wrenching loss to mull over afterward. Alex McNulty hit a 27-yard field goal on an untimed down to deliver a 27-26 win to the Buffalo Bulls at UB Stadium.
McNulty pushed his attempt at a game-winning 32-yard field goal wide right on the game’s final play. But — and it’s a massive one — Ohio DE Bryce Dugan was flagged for being offsides on the play. With another chance, five yards closer, McNulty made Buffalo a winner.
“We let them off the hook on the field goal. We had a block on and we jumped. You can’t do that,” said Ohio head coach Tim Albin. “That wasn’t the reason we lost the game, but it was one of them.
“It’s on me. It’s my responsibility. I have to get this team to show more discipline, especially when we got a lead in the fourth quarter.”
Ohio (1-6, 1-2 MAC) is on the brink of locking up its first non-winning season since 2014 and its first losing season since 2008. The Bobcats have been unable to hold fourth-quarter leads in each of the last two weeks and have lost games this season by one, two, and three points.
Buffalo (3-4, 1-2 MAC) snapped a two-game slide. The home team has won 10 of the last 11 games in this East Division rivalry.
The Bobcats threatened to make it a runaway with an overwhelming first quarter, and took a 26-10 lead with 5:50 left in the third quarter after Buffalo yielded on safety on a fake punt snap that went horribly wrong.
But it was all Bulls after that. Buffalo scored on each of its final three possessions with QB Kyle Vantrease (22 of 30, 261 yards, 1 interception) and RB Dylan McDuffie (143 rushing yards) leading the way. Vantrease flipped a 2-yard touchdown to Tyler Stephens, and added a 2-point conversion pass, to make it 26-18 with 13:11 remaining.
After Ohio QB Armani Rogers lost a fumble on the next series, the Bulls pulled to within 26-24 after Vantrease’s 8-yard TD pass to Trevor Borland with 8:39 left.
The Bobcats followed with a 3-and-out, and UB took over on its own 5-yard line with 6:19 left. The Bulls drove 86 yards on 16 plays, and then used two tries at the game-winning kick before finishing off OU.
“I’m disappointed with how we finished down the stretch. Too many mistakes, self-inflicted,” Albin said. “That’s not who we are, but it was today.”
After going up by 16 points, Ohio managed just 32 net yards on its final 13 plays. Ohio had just seven snaps for four net yards in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Bulls converted 5 of its last 7 third downs; one failure was cleaned up by a fourth-down conversion and the other was a kneel-down to set up the game-ending kick.
The late collapse spoiled a sensational start, and Rogers’ history-making day. Rogers made his second straight start, and for a second straight week played every snap at the position. He finished 6 of 10 passing for 75 yards, and rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
It was Rogers’ first 100-yard game as a Bobcat, and seventh in his collegiate career. It was highlighted by the longest from-scrimmage play in program history.
Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Ohio safety Tariq Drake came up with a stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1. On the Bobcats’ first play of the ensuing possession, Rogers kept the ball, raced to the left sideline, and cruised untouched for a 99-yard touchdown run.
The play was the longest run in NCAA history by a quarterback. It gave Ohio a 14-0 lead, and served as a nice homecoming gift for Rogers, who was born in Buffalo.
“(Teammates) were telling me ‘Lets just make this one play. And then I went out there and it literally ended up being one play. So, it was a funny experience,” Rogers said. “It’s bittersweet because we didn’t get the win, but it’s definitely something fun to look back at. It was a good experience.”
Rogers’ ramble was the middle score in a quick game-opening barrage. De’Montre Tuggle capped Ohio’s first series with a 6-yard touchdown run up the middle. After Rogers’ lightning strike, Ohio cashed in its third possession with Rogers’ 10-yard touchdown run on another keeper.
The Bobcats led 21-0 with 2:49 left in the first quarter. Ohio amassed 226 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter. Nothing came easy the rest of the way however; the ‘Cats had just 120 yards on their final 38 plays combined (3.2 per play).
“I told the team at halftime that the team that comes out in the second half and executes is going to prevail. It’s going to come down to the wire,” Albin said. “ It did. And we did things we have not done all year.
“I’m disappointed with the mistakes that we made. I don’t know how else to say it.”
Tuggle had 46 yards and a score on the ground, but again was limited — he had just eight carries. O’Shaan Allison had 20 yards on 10 carries. When UB bottled up Rogers, Ohio’s offense followed suit.
Leading 21-10 at the break, Ohio had a chance to extend the lead further. The Bobcats opened the half with a 14-play drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock. OU thought it ended with a touchdown when Rogers lobbed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Luehrman on fourth down.
But, RT Jay Amburgey was called for offensive pass interference and Ohio had to settle for Stephen Johnson’s 33-yard field goal and a 24-10 lead instead.
“We had a communication issue at the line of scrimmage,” Albin said. “Get a touchdown right there and it’s a different game. We had a touchdown but we didn’t execute as an offense.”
It was the first in a chain of mistakes — from bad option pitches and fumbles, to defensive penalties and missed tackles — that doomed Ohio to another hard-to-conceive loss.
“Our best 11 guys are going to play and we’re going to call the plays to win them one at a time. That’s going to be our focus,” Albin said.
Ohio will play three of its next four games at home, beginning with a visit from division leading Kent State next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Peden Stadium.