KENT, OHIO – The Buffalo Bulls came back from a 17-6 deficit in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns -- the last coming with 58 seconds remaining -- to defeat the Kent State Golden Flashes 18-17 Thursday night at Dix Stadium.
"We had a feeling it was going to be a tough one.” UB head coach Lance Leopold said. “They (KSU) were a good defense, and we thought this one could be a 7-6 game.”
The comeback was spearheaded by junior QB Joe Licata, who threw two touchdowns in the final period. The latter was an eight-yarder to senior TE Matt Weiser.
PRAISE FOR KSU DEFENSE
"Today we made clutch plays that we needed to. It was very exciting” Licata said. “We didn't want to lose to (Kent State), but they are definitely better than a 3-5 team. That defense is one of the best we've played against and in the conference."
Kent State (3-6, 2-3 MAC) dropped its second straight and third in the last four games.
“Our guys fought hard. I’m proud of them,” KSU head coach Paul Haynes said. “Just a play here and a play there that makes the difference.”
The visitors from western New York scored the game’s first points midway through the first quarter. After pinning KSU deep in its own territory, the Bulls gained possession on their own 48 yard line.
From there, Licata engineered a nine-play 52-yard drive. That ended in a touchdown when junior RB Jordan Johnson took a direct snap and went around the left side 10 yards for the score. The joy was tempered when PK Adam Mitcheson missed the extra point, giving UB just a 6-0 lead.
REARDON TAKES A FEW TURNS
For the third consecutive game, the Golden Flashes offense was stagnant, so Haynes decided to replace redshirt freshman George Bollas with junior Colin Reardon, who had started the first five games before Bollas replaced him in the 38-7 loss at Toledo.
Reardon only was in the game for three possessions, but his appearance would give the Flashes offense a much needed spark.
When asked why Reardon came in to the game, Haynes said “We went into the week knowing that he was going to play. It’s just like how George played a series or two when Colin was the starter. Same thought process here – in case something happens, we keep them both ready to go.”
On his second possession, Reardon moved the offense from his own eight yard line to the Buffalo 27. The drive was short circuited when a Reardon pass was deflected and intercepted by freshman DE Charles Harris who returned the ball to the KSU 47.
KSU repaid the favor two plays later as sophomore CB Demetrius Monday intercepted a Licata pass and raced down the right sideline 66 yards for a touchdown. With PK Shayne Hynes’ extra point, the Flashes had the lead, 7-6.
For Monday, it was his sixth interception, which is among the leaders not only in the MAC, but in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. It was also his second touchdown on the season. He returned a fumble 80 yards for a score in September against Minnesota.
The Flashes offense got the ball back midway through the period, but this time Bollas was back behind center. Kent State moved the ball from its own 15 to the UB 20 before the drive stalled. Hynes came on and kicked a 38-yard field goal to give the home team a 10-6 lead that it took into intermission.
One key to the Flashes halftime lead was the play of their defense. Along with the Monday interception return for a touchdown, the defense held UB to just 110 total yards in the first 30 minutes. That same defense that allowed 48 points in a 48-0 shutout loss at Bowling Green in the Flashes last outing.
The third quarter started as a battle of punts and field position. However, late in the period KSU managed to extend its lead.
FLASHES EXTEND THEIR LEAD
Starting from its own 16 yard line, Kent State put together a seven-play drive. The key play was a 41 yard completion to freshman WR Antwan, Dixon who had six receptions for 72 yards on the evening.
On second down at the UB 31, Bollas found junior WR Earnest Calhoun in the left side of the end zone for the touchdown to forge a 17-6 lead. Bollas would finish the game going 13-of-21 for 107 yards and the score.
As the fourth quarter began, Licata got the Bulls offense into high gear. He put together a 12-play 79-yard drive that culminated with a 29-yard scoring strike to senior WR Ron Willoughby in the far right corner of the end zone to narrow the KSU lead to 17-12. Leopold went for a two-point conversion but Licata’s pass was batted down.
Along with the offensive comeback in the final stanza, the UB defense also had a hand in it as it totally stifled the KSU offense, holding them to just nine total yards and just one first down (a 13-yard run by Bollas).
When asked about the play of the defense, Leopold said "They did some good things, but I thought we did a better job in spacing than in previous games on some of the quick stuff outside. They rotated the big back in there a couple times and pounded us a couple times, then we were able to get a feel for that."
PENALTIES EXTEND KEY DRIVE
UB’s winning scoring drive started on its own 46 with 4:26 remaining and was aided by two major fouls against the Flashes defense.
The first came on a targeting call against DB Jordan Italiano on a third down. The second was on a fourth down and 19 from midfield when Licata threw a desperation pass that was incomplete. However, KSU freshman DB Juantez McRae was called for pass interference extending the drive a second time.
On the interference call, Haynes said, We were “in a prevent defense and a young kid made a young mistake. He let a guy behind him and couldn’t get in position to make a play. It’s something that he learned from, but it’s a hard lesson to learn in this situation. We played well enough to win against a quality opponent.”
The UB drive reached the KSU eight when on third down, Licata found senior TE Matt Weiser over the middle. He then bowled his way into the end zone for the go ahead score.
LICATA EXTENDS PLAY
"It was one of those bootleg plays we run all the time” Weiser said. “He (Licata) runs to his right and doesn't like it so he runs to his left. The defender actually played it very well; he was all over me. I saw the ball coming and Joe tucked and started to run. I was set to go block and set up Joe in a lane to the end zone. I was turning to go and the next thing I know the ball is coming over top to me. I guess Joe is going to throw."
Licata finished the game connecting on 25-of 39 passes for 190 yards and the two fourth quarter touchdowns.
Leopold said of his signal caller, “"I don't know what the numbers say and all that. He just never gives up; he never stops battling. He stayed in the pocket and then makes a little bit of a scramble, I didn't know if he was over the line of scrimmage or not. Joe just keeps competing and making plays."
The rest was left to the Bulls defense who stopped the Flashes on four plays. Buffalo over on downs and ran out the clock, giving them consecutive road wins for the first time since 2009
When asked about his thoughts after the loss, Haynes said “We had chances to put them away and we didn’t. It’s a tough one. Adversity makes you stronger and makes you better. How we deal with this will tell a lot about this football team. We can’t sit and sulk about it. We have to get ready for Ohio.”
KSU faces the Bobcats in Athens on Tuesday November 10, while UB will be at home to face Northern Illinois on Wednesday November 11.