99 for 99 - #5 - The Catch

So what does this dog have to do with the greatest single play in UB football history?

99 for 99 looks at the 99 biggest moments in UB Football history during the 2012 football season, the 99th season of UB Football.

In a previous installment of 99 for 99, I shared the story of how I experienced the Hail Mary, via the phone, because I did not purchase the stream of the game, as I assumed it would be a UB blowout. With my long story (well not so much long as just not very interesting) already told, our very own BrandedBull stepped in to tell us his story of the #5 moment in UB history:

September 13, 2008 - Buffalo 30 - Temple 28 - UB defeats Temple on a Hail Mary, paves path for a MAC East Championship.

Catch_dog_medium

So what does this dog have to do with the greatest single play in UB football history?

Well, it is the summer of 2008 in Buffalo and my family (actually me) decided to get a puppy. Puppy purchased! I signed up my dog Graham for Dog School at Pet Smart a couple of miles from UB stadium. I signed up for an early morning class on Sunday morning so I would not miss any Bulls games. I had a great feeling about this season and I did not want to miss any games. Well, Pet Smart called and they did not have enough for the Sunday class. The only opening was a class that started later on Saturday's. OK sign me up.

The season started well with an absolute drubbing of UTEP. The score does not indicate how much UB handled UTEP! Mike Price, the coach of UTEP, had UB #23 on his ballot. A stumble against Pitt at Heinz Field the second week of the season set up a matchup against in my mind UB's real true rival in the MAC East, Temple. The other MAC teams had their rivals and UB and Temple were creating a heated rivalry.

On September 13, 2008, the sky was overcast and if you ever spent any time at UB stadium, you can feel the familiar breeze blowing through the stadium. Come to think of it, I do not think I have ever been in the stadium and not had a stiff breeze blowing across the stadium.

Fans walking into the stadium had confidence about this game. My Dad and I made our way to our seats. We have great seats on the 35 on the Temple side of the field. Also we sat on the opposite side of the field from the score board. We settle in not expecting a win but thinking our chances are very good. Turner Gill is up 2-0 against Temple and UB had an 11-1 record over Temple rolling into this game. But we are still talking about UB football so that nervous feeling in the pit of the stomach started churning. It could have also been the dogs, Buffalo Chicken wing dip, and Labatt Blue swashing around my belly!

This was not the same Temple team that UB kicked around for decades. Temple started to throw around big MAC money for a head coach and started to have success acquiring recruits. You could see Temple starting to build a strong MAC football program. UB invited more than 400 former football players to come watch the first MAC game of the 2008 season. A nice crowd was starting to settle in. The game was not televised on cable or local TV. The game was telecast on ESPN+ (now ESPN 3.)

This game would have been an all-time great game without the ending. I loved this game because it had everything: great plays on offense, defense, and special teams. The game started off with great defense. Buffalo received the opening kickoff but Temple forced Buffalo off the field without any points. Temple moved the ball easily on their first possession and had the ball one inch from the end zone. Temple called QB sneaks but interior lineman Anel Montanez and Ronald Hilaire thwarted those efforts. On fourth down Tom Drewes smacked the Temple RB and drove him back to keep Temple off the board. Would this make a difference in this game? YES

Buffalo could not move the ball and had to punt from their own end zone. On this possession, Temple took the first lead of the game, 7 - 0, with: 38 left in the first quarter. Brandon Thermalis had a great series and capped of the drive by running over a Temple player en route to the end zone from 2 yards out to tie the score at 7 - 7. With 3:48 left in the first half Temple learned a lesson from the last time they had the ball on the 1, they took the ball out of the QB's hand and gave to Temple's RB Joe Jones who punched it in from the 1 to put Temple up 14 - 7.

But the half was far from over......

Buffalo got the ball back and Willy goes 5 of 6 for 69 yards on 6 plays. Willy hit Ernest Jackson on a cross pattern and Jackson takes the ball 9 yards to tie the game at 14.

But the half is still not over.......

On the ensuing kickoff, special teams ace Alex Pierre strips the ball and Buffalo's Domonic Cook jumps on the ball. Here we go, Buffalo has the Mo' and has the chance to be up at half. Drew Willy is sacked and gives up the ball. Temple recovers and drives down the field and goes into halftime up 21 - 14. After watching the last two minutes of the half it was probably a great thing no beer was being served in the stadium. (Although every other UB game should have beer available. That is a whole different article for another day.)

The Bulls come out of halftime all fired up. I wish I was a fly on the wall in the locker room. Buffalo's defense stops Temple cold and Temple is forced to punt. Then Temple decides to not cover the tight end. Willy hits tight end Jesse Rack on plays of 26, 7 and 9 yards. Brett Hamlin hauls in a six-yard catch to tie the game at 21 - 21. So what is Naaman thinking? His two counterparts, Hamlin and Jackson, have already caught a TD.

The rest of the game is tight and sloppy. Drew throws an interception on the brink of scoring. Temple misses a field goal.

Willy may have had his best drive in his UB career and has started to connect with Naaman. UB goes for it on fourth-and-one. Instead of running the ball, Willy connects with Rack and the drive stays alive. Naaman caught two passes on this drive of 20 and 17. A.J. Principe connects on a 25-yard field goal to put UB up 24 - 21.

So what does the dog have to do with the game? I was cutting it very close to getting the puppy to the last class. It was graduation day and I did not want Graham to miss it. He really loved playing with the other dogs. The game was getting stagnant offensively before UB went up.

I ran out of the stadium to make to puppy class.

Yep, I missed the best 2:27 of UB football, maybe ever, after sitting in that stadium for decades!

After I leave, Temple takes the ball down the field and hits the RB out in the right flat and he scampers into the score board side of the end zone to take the lead at 28 - 24.

Temple kicks off and Ernest Jackson makes a very smart play. Ernest takes a calculate risk and does not scoop up the ball and run but allows the ball to go out of bounds. Buffalo has the ball on their 40. Brutal mistake by Temple's special teams! So here we go, with 1:26 left in the game and down by 4, Drew Willy has the ball in his hands. I am watching a poodle that has to wear a graduation cap strapped on his head by his owners!

Drew hits Naaman on a quick slant and gets tackled in Temple territory at the 30 yard line with 19 seconds left to go.

Brandon Thermalis is hit with a penalty on an illegal shift and the ball is moved back. Brandon comes back the next play and has a nice block.

So here UB stands.

5 seconds left in the game.

Temple leading the game 28 - 24

Ball at Temple's 35 yard line.

Willy rolls back and drifts right and steps up at Temple's 49 and throws a rainbow towards the end zone.

So what happens?

Naaman stepped in front of three Temple defenders and hauls to ball in.

Ed. Note: With an assist from Temple LB John Haley, who not only interfered with Brett Hamlin, but while recklessly plowing into WRs and CBs without looking for the ball, opened up a beautiful window for Naaman to go up and get the ball unmolested.

THE BULLS WIN! THE BULLS WIN!

I was very lucky to be able to acquire the gloves worn by Naaman for THE CATCH.

Catch_gloves_medium

Epilogue

I am sad that I missed the catch live, but I am really disappointed that I missed watching the fans rush the field and shouting "UB, UB, UB". I called my Dad after I got out and pulled up the score on my phone. I asked what happened. He was speechless.

The refs had to get the players and the fans off the field and Buffalo kneels down the PAT to run the clock out. Bulls win 30 - 28 and start the greatest football season in UB football history. Keep in mind that UB lost the next three games and needed the support of all 21,719 in attendance to beat Army in OT. The ball in the above picture is the ball that sailed through the uprights that day!

Looking back at the offensive players UB had on the field that day. The backfield featured future NFLer James Starks, along with Brandon Thermalis, Ike Nduka, and Mario Henry. Former NFL and current CFL Quarterback Drew Willy led the offense and had some great targets in NFler Naaman Roosevelt, CFLer Ernest Jackson, Brett Hamlin, Jesse Rack, and Kyle Brey. Former NFLer Jamey Richard and Peter Bitner held down the offensive line.

Great reactions from Turner and Drew:

"Thank the Lord," said head coach Turner Gill, of his immediate reaction to the play.

"Great win for our program. Great win for our community. Great win for this university. I'm proud of our players. You always talk about believing. You always talk about not giving up, you always talk about finishing. Our theme is about being relentless to the finish. This was a classic example of how to finish. You practice that play almost every week. You know you only get the opportunity like that once or twice a season. The guys didn't panic. Just like in practice, everyone kept doing what they're doing. I'm proud of our players and it's a great win for our program because of the way we won today's game."

Said quarterback Drew Willy,

"I was on a sprint out to the right. We practice this play every week. Three receivers go down. I made sure Naaman got down there so he saw it come out of my hands. I threw it high so he could look at it. He made an amazing catch. I was just hoping that when he went down he held on to it and didn't let them rip it out of his hands. It's the most memorable play I've ever been apart of and congrats to the whole team. It was a once in a lifetime play and I'm glad I was a part of it."

Drew also set a career high throwing for 348 yards on 29 out of 41 attempts in the game.

Would UB have had the swagger to beat down Ball State a few months later in the MAC Championship if they did not win this game?

Would UB even have had the chance to win the MAC East and play in the MAC Championship game if they lose this game and started the MAC season 0 -1?

We'll never know, but those questions add to the prestige and importance of the catch.

Oh by the way, I am also the guy who left the Greatest Comeback in NFL history because our dates were cold.

If I ever leave a game early, stay. It may go down as one of the best sports memories you ever get to see.

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