The Ohio Bobcats (7-3, 4-2, MAC) defense held the Buffalo Bulls (3-7, 3-3 MAC) off the scoreboard long enough for the offense to find itself and the team to gel in the final two frames for the road victory under the Tuesday night lights.
UB controlled the contest for the first half, starting with a first quarter in which they dominated time of possession by holding on to the ball for over 11 minutes, while pinning Ohio’s offense within the 15-yard line for its first two possessions.
The Bulls alternated signalcallers effectively between starting quarterback Cole Snyder and CJ Ogbonna, who was a factor on the ground. When the opening drive stalled though inside Ohio’s territory the ‘Cats bailed out the Bulls with an offside penalty that gave Buffalo a shot at a first down on fourth-and-short with running back Ron Cook Jr. converting the good fortune.
The Bulls drove down to about the ‘Cats ten but could not convert another fourth-and-one as defensive tackle Rodney Mathews and linebacker Bryce Houston combined to stop Buffalo running back Mike Washington in his tracks short of the line to gain.
The game settled into a defensive battle as the affair headed into the second quarter, with each side trading punts.
Buffalo eventually got the scoring started with under seven minutes to go in the second quarter when kicker Alex McNulty hit a 41-yarder. The key play on the drive was a 48-yard pass from Snyder to receiver Boobie Curry, who found himself alone behind the defense on what looked like busted coverage by the ‘Cats.
As it has for large stretches of the last four games, Ohio’s offensive production could be fairly summarized as substantially below lackluster with a sound Buffalo defense holding the Bobcats to a paltry 41 total yards on three first half drives.
Bobcats head coach Tim Albin, however, effectively froze the Buffalo kicker to keep three points off the board at the end of the second, as McNulty hit a 55-yarder which did not count due to the timeout. McNulty’s next attempt went wide left from his perspective to close the half.
As the third quarter started taking shape, Buffalo may have regretted not doing more on the scoreboard with its first-half dominance as Ohio’s offense began to click.
Ohio’s offense woke up on its first possession of the third quarter to tie the game at 3-3, almost doubling its first half production in the process by moving 71 yards in 12 plays. Ohio was able to work through self-inflicted wounds in the form of a penalty and a misfire on an open throw deep. Sieh Bangura’s 39 yards rushing on two carries were key, hitting some running lanes that opened on the offense’s right side.
With Ohio inside the UB five and looking to punch it in on third down, Bulls defensive end Max Michel came up huge with an eight-yard sack before Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke could find an open Bangura in the flat for a likely touchdown.
UB made the first of a few critical second half errors by botching the ensuing kickoff return and starting the drive in the shadow of its goal post at its own two-yard line. Not able to pick up a first down, UB’s punt gave Ohio great field position at the Buffalo 39-yard line.
Ohio drove the ball easily inside the five until the Bulls defense stiffened on third and goal at the two when LB Red Murdock’s textbook tackle stuffed a direct-snap run to Bangura for no gain. Ohio went for it on fourth and cashed it in this time on a two-yard touchdown by Bangura on the right side of the line to take a 10-3 lead.
As the third quarter moved to the fourth, the Bulls offense quickly bounced back to gain some momentum on a 53-yard pass from Cole Snyder to receiver Darrell Harding Jr. The Bulls wideout was able to break a tackle and run amok for the explosive play.
CJ Ogbonna took things from there, rushing for 19 yards on the drive and ultimately scoring on a two-yard run on third down to tie the game at 10.
Ohio’s offense continued to roll though by scoring on its third-straight drive, thanks to a 25-yard field goal by Gianni Spetic. The drive was keyed on a 29-yard run by running back O’Shaan Allison, who displayed all-star-level vision to bounce the play outside to find the necessary crease to daylight.
As the game wore on, disaster struck for the second time in the half for UB when Cole Snyder coughed up the ball on a hit by linebacker Keye Thompson. The ball was recovered by Ohio, gifting the offense a drive starting at the Buffalo 29-yard line. Sieh Bangura would hit paydirt on a five-yard option pitch from Rourke a few plays later to extend the ‘Cats lead to 20-10.
Down ten with less than two minutes to go, the Bulls were stopped by the Bobcats defense on fourth-and-11 around midfield to close the contest.
For Ohio, it was great team defense that paved the way to victory.
Although the Bobcats surrendered two explosive passing plays totaling 100 yards, they did just about everything else right to get the win. The defense held the Bulls to three first-half points until the offense found its footing. They staked the offense to excellent field position in the second half with Ohio drives starting at the Buffalo 29 and 39.
Linebackers Keye Thompson and Bryce Houston led the charge with a combined 25 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble, and a pass defensed. Keye Thompson embodied the team’s “Will-to-Win” by chasing UB reveiver Darrell Hardings Jr. down from behind to prevent the score on the 52-yard pass play.
True freshman defensive tackle Kobi Gorman put together perhaps the finest performance of his young career finishing with four stops and his first career sack.
Offensively for Ohio, it was a tale of two halves. The ‘Cats psoted zero points and 41 total yards in the first half, then made up for it with 20 points and 201 yards in the second half. Key to the success was a running game that found life with 111 second-half yards led by Sieh Bangura’s 78 yards and two scores.
The Bulls have to feel like they let an opportunity slip away tonight as a few second-half mistakes led to the loss that will all but bump them from bowl eligibility.
UB’s gameplan incorporating QB CJ Ogbonna into the mix in the running game paid some dividends with 47 yards rushing and a score.
Defensively, UB befuddled Ohio’s offense in the first half shutout. Also, the Bulls defense was put behind the eight-ball with two drives starting in their territory. To their credit, they played some strong red zone defense to minimize the damage. Freshman linebacker Red Murdock finished with six tackles and showed some real promise with some technically brilliant, physical stops in the red zone.
The Bobcats look to keep their slim MAC East title hopes alive when they host Central Michigan next Wednesday at 7:00pm Eastern while the Bulls travel to Miami on the same night and time to take on the RedHawks.