The Buffalo Bulls (8-5, 5-3 MAC), conference runner-ups in 2018, were left to watch at home as the Miami RedHawks, who they lost to in-season, lifted the MAC Championship trophy two weeks ago.
But they had to have a short memory, since their next mission was already given to them at the beginning of December: to beat the Charlotte 49ers (7-6, 5-3 Conference USA) in Nassau, Bahamas, in the 2019 Bahamas Bowl.
The Bulls played to their strengths in a dominating 31-9 victory over the 49ers at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium to secure the program’s first bowl win in program history in their fourth attempt.
Jaret Patterson was the star of the game on a day which predicated the ground game, finishing with 172 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, breaking a Bahamas Bowl record for most carries in a game. Patterson was unstoppable in the second half, and was responsible for picking up 64 of the 75 yards on Buffalo’s last scoring drive to seal the game, including a 19-yard pickup on third-and-17 to keep the drive (which lasted for 9:05 of game time) alive. Patterson was also responsible for 101 of Buffalo’s 133 second-half offensive yards.
Patterson set several program records in the process, finishing the game with a season-high in yards (1,799) and rushing touchdowns (19), while also setting himself up to break the all-time rushing mark next season by pushing his career mark in yards to 2,812 (good for fifth all-time currently.)
It was the passing game which set up Buffalo for success to start, as Kyle Vantrease (8-of-17, 77 yards, one touchdown, one interception) and Antonio Nunn connected for a highlight reel fade reception in the endzone to put Buffalo up 7-0 to open up the scoring account.
Nunn, with a catch in the first half, broke the school record for career receiving yards in bowl games, previously held by Naaman Roosevelt. He left early due to injury, but finished with five receptions for 53 yards and the score.
Buffalo would go up to 17-0 in the second quarter thanks to a short rushing touchdown by Vantrease and an Alex McNulty field goal from 32 yards out in the third quarter, the latter score being set up by a winding interception by James Patterson on a batted ball.
Charlotte would take their first possession of the second half and come up empty on their own 43-yard line after going for it on fourth down for the second time in the game, setting up a Patterson six-yard score on the next possession to put Buffalo up 24-0.
Charlotte’s lone touchdown of the day came on a busted coverage, as Chris Reynolds (15-of-24 for 198 yards, one touchdown and one interception) exposed the middle of the Bulls defense on a read option look to find Victor Tucker (three receptions, 61 yards) for a 51-yard touchdown to get the 49ers on the board. The two-point conversion failed, but Charlotte would get a field goal on their next possession courtesy of a Jonathan Cruz boot from 33 yards out to put the score at 24-9.
Patterson would take the ball on the next possession and cap off a 16-play, 75-yard drive which took 9:05 off the board and score on a 10-yard sweep to the left untouched to put the Bulls up 31-9 with just over a minute to go.
The Bulls defensed performed well, allowing only 278 yards (198 through the air, 80 on the ground) and forcing two turnovers, including a forced fumble on an attempted run by Reynolds recoverd by Ledarius Mack and the James Patterson interception, with both of those turnovers in the latter parts of the first half. The Bulls held the 49ers to 5-of-12 on third-down attempts and 2-of-4 on fourth down throughout the game, limiting the 49ers to nine points in nine possessions.
They especially did a fantastic job in limiting Charlotte’s ability to run the ball, keeping star running back Ben LeRoy to 45 yards on 13 carries with no touchdowns, forcing the 49ers to rely on other playmakers.
The victory on Friday afternoon is Buffalo’s first as an FBS program, having joined the Mid-American Conference in 1999. They had gone 0-3 in their previous attempts, with an appearance in the Dollar General Bowl last season ending in a loss to the Troy Trojans.
The game was also a historic one for the Charlotte 49ers, as they made their postseason debut as an FBS program, having joined Conference USA in 2015.