99 for 99 - #73: Running Downhill: The 1996 Buffalo Bulls Part 3

Kali Watkins 2 touchdowns helped lift the Bulls over Cornell. via www.ubathletics.buffalo.edu

99 for 99 takes a look at the 99 biggest moments in UB Football history in anticipation of the 99th Season of UB Football which begins on September 1st, 2012. These moments are not in any order, however the top 10 moments have been saved for last.

The #73 Moment, Running Downhill, looks at the 1996 Buffalo Bulls season see Part 1 and Part 2

October 5, 1996 - Buffalo (5-1) 41, Cornell 24

Homecoming 1996 was the first meeting between Buffalo and Cornell in 30 years. The hottest Bulls team in a decade brought 9,117 fans to UB Stadium. The defense was deadly, 3rd best in D-1AA in forcing turnovers. The backfield tandem of Swan and Pace were near unstoppable. The duo continued to devour defenses as UB took a 7-3 lead on Swan's 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

All season, the weak link was Quarterback Mark Taylor. If Buffalo could show improvement in the passing game, 1996 could be a special season. Taylor seemed to answer the call, throwing for 96 yards in the first quarter. However, Taylor was injured in the second quarter forcing backup Erik Rusin into action. Rusin a graduate of Amherst Central High, only had 1 career collegiate pass attempt. Down 13-10, with minutes remaining in the half, Rusin calmly led Buffalo down the field and threw a 19 yard touchdown pass to Jamie Gasparre.

In the second half, Cornell kept the game close kicking a field goal to cut the Buffalo lead to 1. Rusin responded with two touchdown passes to Kali Watkins, the first for 68 yards the second for 35. Watkins finished with 5 receptions, 152 yards and 2 touchdowns.

UB sealed the victory with a 32-yard interception return by Bill Tipton sending the home crowd home happy with a 41-24 victory. After the game UB stood at #8 in the D-1AA Lambert Cup Poll. With a reinvigorated passing game, the 1996 team had the chance to win the Lambert Cup and challenge the 1958 team as the best UB team of all time.

November 2, 1996 - Buffalo (6-3) 14, Hofstra 10 - Taylor Returns, Throws Longest Pass in UB history

After the Cornell victory, it appeared the Mark Taylor injury would not hurt Buffalo's chances. Backup Erik Rusin played valiantly, but with Rusin as the starter UB produced their lowest scoring weeks all season: 26 total points in two losses. After a bye week, Mark Taylor was ready to start again ready to secure a winning season for the Bulls.

In another defensive struggle, UB found themselves down 10-0. Gerald Carlson tied his own UB record with 12 punts in a game. The first time he reached 12 punts, UB lost 35-0. However UB scored twice in the 3rd quarter to take the lead and eventually win 14-10. Taylor and Jamie Gasparre also made UB history that day; they connected on a 91-yard touchdown pass, which is still the longest pass in UB history.

With the win, UB climbed back to 9th in the Lambert Cup Poll and clinched a winning season for the first time since 1986 and the first winning season in Division 1 since 1969.

Ellis1_medium

Ed Ellis sparked UB's offense as a run and pass blocker. He also really liked wings.
via www.ubathletics.buffalo.edu

November 9, 1996 - Buffalo (7-3) 24, New Haven 20

On Senior Day 1996, the Bulls faced Tony Sparano's New Haven Chargers. Many senior Bulls would be spending their last few months in Buffalo, so understandably they had Buffalo wings on their minds. Ed Ellis explained: "Swanny promised us a wing party if he gets [1,000 yards]." Anthony Swan was 48 yards away from the 1,000 yard mark, and it would be special to reach the milestone at home.

The Chargers wouldn't give it up easy, they dominated the game especially through the air. Chargers QB Jesse Showeda threw for 425 yards while breaking Trent Dilfer's record for consecutive passes without an interception (275). UB's special teams made an uncharacteristic error allowing an 85-yard kick return touchdown. Buffalo however remained opportunistic recovering four Charger fumbles.

Swan ran for 104 yards and reached 1,000 yards on the season, but he did not carry the offense like in past weeks. This week, Taylor matched the effort of New Haven's Quarterback, throwing for 411 yards. This was especially uncharacteristic for the game manager; the New Haven game represented 13% of Taylor's career passing yardage. The 411 yards passing was the 3rd most in UB history, standing today as the 6th best passing game.

Buffalo led 17-13 when Showerda hit Aaron Gagnon for a 20 yard TD strike late in the 3rd quarter. UB remained down 3 until late in the 4th quarter. Taylor hit Gasparre for a 30-yard touchdown to give UB the lead. Gasparre finished the day with 11 receptions, 155 yards and two touchdowns.

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