The Buffalo Bulls and the Charlotte 49ers met in the Bahamas on Friday afternoon, each looking for their first bowl victory in school history. UB came ready to play in this one, and controlled the game pretty much from the get-go. Both the offense and the defense had strong showings against the Conference USA representative 49ers, and the Bulls avoided second half mistakes that had plagued them at times throughout the season. The end result was 31-9 victory for UB, and the first bowl victory in program history.
The Bulls won the opening coin flip, and elected to defer, giving the 49ers the first shot with the ball. Following a touchback, Charlotte started at their own 25 yardline and managed to pick up 9 yards on their first two plays. A holding penalty on 3rd and 1 pushed the 49ers back, and they were unable to overcome the setback, going three and out on their first drive.
A 39 yard punt and four yard return by WR Antonio Nunn set the Bulls up at their own 39 for their first possession. As Bulls fans have grown accustom to seeing, RB Jaret Patterson carried much of the load on the drive gaining 46 yards on five carries which helped set-up the Bulls on the Charlotte 12 yard line. From there, QB Kyle Vantrease and Nunn did the rest, connecting on 12 yard TD pass on a fade to the right corner of the endzone.
After regaining control of the ball at their own 25, Charlotte found success on their first play with QB Chris Reynolds connecting with WR Cameron Dollar for a 29 yard completion. From there the 49ers managed to pick up two more first downs, advancing to the UB 16 before being faced with a 4th and 6. Charlotte head coach Will Healy elected to attempt a field goal, but K Jonathan Cruz missed it wide left on the 33 yard attempt into a strong Bahamian wind.
Taking over after the missed field goal, the Buffalo offense only managed to pick-up one first down. K/P Jackson Baltar had a 39 yard punt, but much of it was negated by a 22 yard return by Charlotte DB Nafees Lyon.
Following the punt return, the 49ers took over at the UB 48 yardline. Like the Bulls on the previous drive, the 49ers only managed to pick-up one first down. Learning from the field goal attempt on their previous possession, Will Healy decided to go for a 4th and 1 conversion from the UB 26, however it was stuffed for no gain, turning the ball over on downs back to the Bulls.
The following UB possession was a perfect depiction of many UB drives this season. The Bulls ate 8:26 off the clock and featured an effective mix of Jaret Patterson, Kevin Marks, and Kyle Vantrease on the ground, while Vantrease also completed passes to Zac Lefebvre, and Antonio Nunn. This drive took the Bulls from their own 26 down to the Charlotte 1, and on 4th and 1, a Kyle Vantrease QB sneak resulted in the Bulls second TD of the game. K Alex McNulty’s PAT made it a 14-0 game with 3:33 remaining in the half.
On the first play of Charlotte’s drive following the TD, a tipped pass was intercepted by LB James Patterson and returned to the Charlotte 12.
The Bulls were unable to get anything going after the interception, actually being moved back two yards to the Charlotte 14. K Alex McNulty came on and nailed the 31 yard field goal attempt to make it a 17-0 game with 1:25 remaining in the half.
After regaining possession, Charlotte picked up two first downs, one on a roughing the passer penalty on UB DE Malcolm Koonce. Koonce bounced back, on the very next play by sacking Chris Reynolds and forcing a fumble that was recovered by DE Ledarius Mack and returned to the Charlotte 44.
With just six seconds remaining on the clock, head coach Lance Leipold opted to take a shot at the end zone on a Hail Mary into the wind. The pass was intercepted by Charlotte S Marquavis Gibbs who was safely wrestled to the ground after time had expired. The Bulls took a 17-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
After deferring in the first half Buffalo got the first possession of the second half. The Bulls managed to pick up one first down before being forced to punt. A net 38 yard punt by Jackson Baltar gave Charlotte the ball at their own 24.
Charlotte didn’t fare any better than the Bulls, managing just one first down themselves on their first possession of the second half. Facing 4th and 4 at their own 43 and down 3 scores, the 49ers opted to go for it, but an incompletion turned the ball over on downs.
Buffalo capitalized on the prime starting field position. 4 Jaret Patterson carries, a Vantrease-Lefebvre connection, and an offsides penalty on Charlotte moved the Bulls down to the six yardline. Patterson took it from there, and plunged into the endzone. Following the PAT, the Bulls held a 24-0 lead.
On Charlotte’s following drive they finally found an answer. After starting at their own 25, the 49ers worked their way out to the 49. From there Chris Reynolds connected with top receiver Victor Tucker for a 51 yard catch and run that Tucker took to the house. A failed 2 point conversion attempt left the score at 24-6.
The Bulls were not able to get anything going on the following drive and went 3 and out. Jackson Baltar’s 42 yard punt was downed at the Charlotte 31.
Charlotte continued to show more life offensively, leading another good drive. A balanced run/pass attack moved the 49ers down to the UB 15 where the drive stalled out. The big play on the drive was a 25 yard completion from Reynolds to former UB player, and Buffalo native WR Tyler Ringwood. On 4th and 5 from the 15, Charlotte took the points, and kicked a 32 yard field goal which Jonathan Cruz converted to make the score 24-9.
The Buffalo offense bounced back well from the 3 and out on their previous possession. Nine consecutive rushes by Jaret Patterson moved the Bulls from their own 25 to the Charlotte 25. Then three carries by both Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks moved Buffalo to the Charlotte 10. Jaret Patterson then did what Jaret Patterson does: score TDs. Patterson put the game on ice with a rushing TD from 10 yards out, and the ensuing Alex McNulty PAT left the game at its final score: 31-9. The drive melted 9:07 off the clock, and left the game clock with just 1:43 remaining.
Charlotte managed to move the ball to the UB 35 with a series of completions with the Bulls in prevent defense. With 0:03 remaining, Reynolds dropped back for one last pass, but was sacked by Ledarius Mack.
This victory provided the Buffalo Bulls with a program first bowl win. This also perfectly capped a good season for Lance Leipold and the Bulls. Given all that was lost after last year this was a very successful season, and the team improved as the season wore on. With 16 of 22 starters returning next season, 2020 will be fun and the Bulls will be back in the MAC title mix, if not favorites.