With 6:09 remaining in the third quarter, Toledo Rockets quarterback Dequan Finn ran in from three yards out to put the visiting team up 27-10, a seemingly devastating development in the midst of some offensive struggles for the homestanding Buffalo Bulls.
The Rockets (5-3, 3-1 MAC West) would never score again, as the Buffalo Bulls (5-3, 4-0 MAC) found their mojo in the fourth quarter and blitzed the Rockets with a 24-0 scoring run to defend their home turf, preventing an endzone shot as time expired to secure the 34-27 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Cole Snyder, the transfer quarterback from Rutgers, came alive in the final frame to rally the Bulls, scoring two total touchdowns and aiding in two additional scoring drives to help UB pull off the upset in what could be the biggest pivot game of the 2022 MAC season.
It was a touch-and-go situation to start, as the teams exchanged drives which were increasingly frustrating; the Rockets punted within six plays on the first possession of the game, but the Bulls couldn’t take advantage, as the usually trusty Alex McNulty missed from 57 yards out to keep the score even at zero. The teams then went for turnover-on-downs on their next two possessions, giving each other the ball in the midfield range of the gridiron after unproductive drives.
It would be the Rockets who finally broke through to open the scoring account, as Dequan Finn found Jamal Turner on a back-shoulder fade route to put UT up 7-0 with just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Rockets would tack on an additional three points on a Thomas Cluckey field goal after forcing Buffalo to go three-and-out on the prior possession, going up 10-0 early in the second quarter.
In a shocking turn of events, it would be the Bulls defense who would get Buffalo on the board with a hellacious 72-yard fumble return touchdown by Jahmin Muse, narrowing the gap to 10-7 with 10:40 to go in the first half.
Toledo made sure to re-establish themselves on the next two three drives, scoring on a 17-yard Dequan Finn scramble run, forcing a quick punt on defense, and then kicking a field goal to go up by a 20-7 margin before the end of the half.
Buffalo would turn the ball over on downs on their last offensive possession of the first half at the Toledo 33, but the Rockets were unable to make anything of it, as Marcus Fuqua intercepted the Hail Mary attempt in front of the endzone to end the quarter.
The Bulls started with the ball in the third quarter, eventually turning it in for a 40-yard field goal from Alex McNulty to bring the score to a 20-10 Toledo lead. It proved to be a pivotal score, as just two scrimmage plays later, Jacquez Stuart dropped the ball on a 48-yard run and Buffalo’s Isaiah King recovered to cause their second turnover of the day.
Dequan Finn ran in for his second rushing score of the day from three yards out after the Rockets defense forced another quick Buffalo drive, giving UT their biggest lead of the day at 27-10.
The Bulls would come alive as soon as the fourth quarter clock began, with Cole Snyder capping off an eight-play, 64-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run and following it up on their next offensive drive with a 32-yard catch-and-run Jamari Gassett receiving touchdown set up by a wide-open 24-yard Ron Cook Jr. wheel route to get within three points with 9:35 remaining in the game.
Toledo, suddenly having to navigate a one-score game on the road, was unable to face the pressure, as Dequan Finn had to evade pressure, sending an ill-advised pass into the hands of Buffalo linebacker Shaun Dolac, who tipped the pass upwards for Marcus Fuqua to slide under for UB’s third turnover.
Four plays later, Ron Cook Jr. would give Buffalo their first lead of the day on a 30-yard run down the sidelines, putting the hosts up 31-27 with 8:01 remaining.
Toledo would turn the ball over on downs in the next possession, but Buffalo opened up a potential opportunity for the Rockets after a Jamal Hines sack fumble resulted in a turnover recovered by Dyontae Johnson.
Toledo’s crisis of faith seemed to be fading quickly after the fumble recovery and especially after a Dequan Finn scramble of 29 yards put the ball inside the Buffalo 10-yard line— but a holding call would negate the promising play. Marcus Fuqua would once again jump in front of a Dequan Finn pass on the very next play, as the Rockets were pressured to throw on second-and-20 in plus territory to try and make up for lost yards.
The Bulls would possess the ball at the 3:14 mark of the fourth quarter after Fuqua’s third interception of the night, dragging the clock all the way down to 47 seconds before settling for the field goal from Alex McNulty, which he would kick true from 42 yards out.
Down 34-27 and with no more timeouts, the Rockets had to toss the ball downfield for any chance of bringing the game to overtime.
Finn would connect on 18 and 12-yard passes to Devin Maddox and Jerjuan Newton, respectively, before throwing two straight incompletions. After a third-down toss fell short of the sticks, Finn connected with fullback Lenny Kuhl for a six-yard conversion on fourth-and-one to set up the spike play and give the offense enough time to try for two endzone shots.
Buffalo played prevent defense with no defensive backs within 15 yards, with Finn finding running back Jacquez Stuart for an eight-yard underneath route on second down, setting up a do-or-die third-and-two from the Buffalo 22-yard line. Finn dropped back, then rolled out to evade the incoming pressure of Keyshawn Cobb Jr. before stepping up in the pocket and taking a lick from George Wolo as he threw the ball to the left side of the field, which was intercepted by Caleb Offord to complete the Buffalo comeback.
Snyder finished the game 22-of-39 for 245 yards and two total touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) for Buffalo, while Ron Cook Jr. starred at the running back spot, with 118 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to pair with three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. Jamari Gassett had the lone touchdown with 69 yards on four receptions, while Quian Williams hauled in a team-leading five catches.
Defensively, Shaun Dolac dominated the gridiron, leading the team in total tackles (12), tackles-for-loss (three) and pass break-ups (two), one of which led directly to a turnover. Jahmin Muse also starred, with nine tackels, 1.5 TFLs, a sack and the fumble recovery score.
Safety Marcus Fuqua became the first Bull with three interceptions in a single game since Courthey Lester vs. Western Michigan in 2012 on Saturday, pairing his excellent coverage with four tackles.
Alex McNulty went 2-of-3 on field goals, making from 40 and 42 yards, but missing from 57 yards.
The Toledo passing offense struggled immensely, as Dequan Finn finished 25-of-47 for 240 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions, with no receiver picking up more than 54 yards or six receptions (both marks held by Jerjuan Newton). Jacquez Stuart was a lone bright spot with 107 net yards, but also had a fumble in a key juncture. Finn had two rushing scores to pace the rushing attack.
Dyontae Johnson and Maxen Hook tied for the team and game lead with 12 tackles each, while Jamal Hines and D’Andre Ragin led the team with two tackles-for-loss each. Hines hauled in an additional 1.5 sacks, with Adrian Woliver credited with a solo sack. Quinyon Mitchell continued his dominant individual form, picking up six stops (all solo), with an additional four pass-breakups to lead all defenders.
Thomas Cluckey was 2-of-2 when called upon for kicks, making from 39 yards and 23 yards.
Buffalo, now undefeated in MAC play at 4-0, will travel to the upstart Ohio Bobcats to kick off the weeknight #MACtion slate on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Toledo will be licking their wounds, and hope a game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Nov. 29 at noon Eastern will be just what they need to turn things around and keep hold of the MAC West lead.