By Jonah Bronstein
Greater Niagara Newspapers
To call them special teams may be too kind.
Mistakes in the kicking game doomed the University at Buffalo football team Saturday and made another losing season all but inevitable.
The Bulls battled back from a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter and seemed to be riding a wave of momentum into overtime when Peter Fardon shanked a point after try with 14 seconds left leading to a 31-20 loss to Northern Illinois in front of the remaining diehards from an announced crowd of 13,370 at UB Stadium.
“Really disappointed that I let my teammates, my coaches, the university and the fans down. I’ve got a job to do and I didn’t do it,” said Fardon, a 29-year-old former Australian football player who assumed placekicking duties for his senior year after three seasons as the Bulls’ punter and holder. “It’s inexcusable and it’s something I have to live with now.”
“No one blames Pete on the team,” said Grand Island native Alex Neutz, who caught nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. “I don’t want him to blame himself. I don’t want anybody to blame him. If that’s the case, the offense should’ve scored 38 points, we shouldn’ve have only had 30 points. The defense should’ve only given up 24 points. By no means is it Pete’s fault. We love him and we don’t blame him at all.”
Fardon also missed a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter, but plenty of special teamers shared blame in the loss. The Bulls sorely missed all-conference return specialist Terrell Jackson, whose senior season likely ended last week when he sustained a head/neck injury. Ed Young muffed two punts in the first quarter, losing one and recovering the other. He was replaced by Cortney Lester, who subsequently let the ball glance of his hand while faking a fair catch on a punt. Jeffvon Gill also mishandled a kickoff, but did not lose possession. And though it had no effect on the final outcome, freshman Patrick Clarke hooked a kickoff out of bounds that could’ve derailed UB’s late comeback.
Coach Jeff Quinn called the special teams performance “completely unacceptable.” But he was just as dismayed with an offense that turned the ball over three times (a Branden Oliver fumble and two Chazz Anderson interceptions). Coming into Saturday, UB had just five turnovers in seven games. “Very uncharacteristic of our football team,” Quinn said.
UB is now 2-6 on the season and 1-3 in Mid-American Conference play, effectively out of contention for a division title or a bowl game. The Bulls must run the table in their final games to finish with a .500 record.
The loss overshadowed the fact that the Bulls contained and outgained the No. 1 offense in the MAC, producing 572 yards while holding the Huskies (5-2, 3-1) to just 328, their second-lowest output of the season.
Anderson set a school record by completing 35 of 53 passes for a career-high 404 yards. Marcus Rivers had 10 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Young responded to his special teams benching by catching seven passes for 51 yards and the potentially-tying touchdown in the final minute. Oliver ran for 112 yards on 28 carries. Lee Skinner led the defense with 10 tackles. Jaleel Verser and Khalil Mack each had two tackles for loss.
Buffalo native Steven Means went down for several minutes in the second half but walked off the field on his own power. He underwent precautionary x-rays on his neck.