Back and forth. And forth and back. Because of college football's turn-based overtime system, Western Michigan and Buffalo fans alike watched Saturday's afternoon showdown with their hearts racing a mile a minute. Everybody invested in this MAC matchup had to endure seven overtimes and nearly five hours of maximum intensity.
The NCAA implements a rule where teams must attempt two-point conversions once third overtime hits — a regulation likely designed to prevent such a monstrosity of a football game as this. But through six overtimes, Buffalo matched Western Michigan and Western Michigan matched Buffalo. It was a thing of beauty.
Records were shattered, stat sheets were filled, and players' family members even ran onto the field in excitement mid-game. This game had everything and will now hold a special place in college football history. Let's open up the record book and see new achievements attained at UB Stadium on Saturday.
- Most points in a game: 139 (previous record was 137 from last year's Pitt 76, Syracuse 61 game in late November)
- Most points by a losing team: 68, Buffalo
- Most overtimes in a college football game (tie): 7 (Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 — 2001, Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63 — 2003, North Texas 25, FIU 22 — 2006 were the previous 7 OT games)
- Most passing yards by a MAC quarterback: 597, Buffalo QB Drew Anderson
- Most touchdown passes by a MAC quarterback (tie): 7, Buffalo QB Drew Anderson
These aren't obscure records at all. This game will hold plenty of relevancy as long as these records stand. Viewers of this spectacle witnessed the most points and most overtimes in just one single game. The extended overtime period acted like a second game of a double-header, but with over 4.5 hours of action on the line.
Jarvion Franklin is still one of MAC's best players
2017 did not start in the best way for Jarvion Franklin. He only eclipsed the 40-yard mark on the ground once in his first five games. But on Saturday, Franklin was a hero for the Broncos, scoring four touchdowns in a winning effort. His most important score of the night was his 12-yard sprint, breaking through tacklers to enter the blue end zone and seal the thrilling victory.
Franklin only had four rushing yards at halftime. But he finished with 176, rushing for over the century mark in the overtime periods alone. (If you're trying to do the math, 25 yards x 7 overtimes = 175 total yards needed, assuming no penalties and a touchdown every possession.) Franklin was THAT crucial in crunch time, taking most of the workload and either (a) setting the tone for Buffalo or (b) responding to every Buffalo touchdown each possession.
Franklin caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in the first half, but all three of his rushing scores occurred in the untimed periods. He scored three of the Broncos' final four touchdowns, reaching the promise land in fourth, fifth, and seventh overtimes.
Buffalo is a good team with a potent offense
Entering Saturday, quarterback Drew Anderson only threw 28 passes in his entire college career. During the clash with Western Michigan, the junior threw 61. Anderson cannot be blamed for losing this game at all. He threw for a MAC record 597 yards, seven touchdowns, and did not throw a single interception. He also juked several defenders and ran the ball in for Buffalo's final touchdown in sixth overtime.
In games where Anderson plays this season, the Bulls are 2-1, with Saturday serving as the lone defeat. After the performance he posted in Week 6, it appears that Lance Leipold has found himself a reliable starter for the remainder of the season.
And although Buffalo sits at .500 and 3-3, the Bulls are legitimate contenders for the MAC East. The division currently has no frontrunner, with 3-3 Akron sitting on a fragile throne with a 2-0 conference record. Other MAC East members, Ohio and Miami (OH) both dropped surprising games to Central Michigan and Bowling Green, respectively.
Given the way Buffalo played against the reigning MAC champions (and 2016 Cotton Bowl participant), the Bulls might have established themselves as the division's best team. The team looked competitive against both Minnesota (3-2) and Army (4-2) in the season's early going. Also, Leipold's squad defeated Lane Kiffin's Florida Atlantic — a team that also looks to be improving week-to-week.
The Bulls have a crucial home game against the NIU Huskies next week before their schedule softens up and features many winnable games.
Western Michigan is a top-2 team in the MAC
Good teams find ways to win, even if it takes seven overtimes. Also, any road conference victory is impressive. The Broncos did not intercept a single pass on Saturday and did not sack Drew Anderson even once on 65 passing attempts. But despite Western Michigan's defensive shortcomings, the offense put on an excellent display nearly all afternoon. The team attained 645 yards of offense and scored 10 touchdowns, surpassing the 50-point mark against a conference foe for the second time this season.
Western Michigan showed dominance last week in a 55-3 win over Ball State. The offense performed to the best of its ability on Saturday, finding success through the air and ground. Although the defense could show improvements, the defense of MAC frontrunner Toledo hasn't performed at an exceptional level either. The Rockets, 4-1 with a loss at No. 11 Miami (FL), may still be the top team in the conference, but Tim Lester's Broncos, 4-2 with losses at No. 13 USC and No. 21 Michigan State, cannot be far behind.
This is, and will be, the game of the year
How can you top seven overtimes, 139 points, and constant chaos from the opening kickoff to Jarvion Franklin's final touchdown? One year ago, Western Michigan-Buffalo received a lot of attention by acting as the featured matchup on ESPN's College GameDay. But in 2017, the game arguably garnered more notice due to its record-breaking nature.
One viral moment of the game occurred after Western Michigan scored in first overtime. Tight end Donnie Ernsberger caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jon Wassink to tie the score at 38 and force a second overtime, and an interesting celebration erupted in the end zone. Ernsberger's sister stormed onto the field to celebrate with the senior tight end after the touchdown, even though the game would endure for six more overtimes. The team was not flagged but his sister was escorted off of the field, grabbing her car keys from the stands on the way out.
There were 44 possessions, 193 total plays, and more points scored in overtime (77) than in regulation (62).
In third overtime, Buffalo's fumble appeared to end the game, but Broncos' kicker Josh Grant missed a 29-yard field goal to win the game. In fourth overtime, the Bulls were forced to convert a two-point attempt to extend the game. In fifth and sixth overtimes, Buffalo and Western Michigan each had a shot to finish the chaos by converting a two-point conversion, but failed. And in seventh overtime, the Broncos' defense finally forced Drew Anderson's offense to kick a field goal, allowing Western Michigan to win with a walk-off touchdown. They did just that with the help of Jarvion Franklin's legs and tackle-shedding ability.
Only 17,048 fans attended the contest, but this game should live on in the history of college football. It's an ESPN Instant Classic (and it helps that the game was nationally televised on ESPNU).
This ranks up with the Oklahoma State-Central Michigan's, the Stanford-Cal's the Michigan-Appalachian State's. It is very unlikely this game's chaotic nature will be replicated in the 2017 season, and this is a moment college football fans must recognize and cherish as one of the greatest games of all-time. Although where the game ranks is purely based on opinion, the monumental records it leaves behind cannot be disputed.