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Game Recap: Buffalo Flames Out at Liberty, Bulls Fall 35-17

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bulls rolled into Lynchburg, VA on Saturday coming off of a solid showing against the #15 Penn State Nittany Lions, ready to face a struggling Liberty Flames team. Any momentum the Bulls carried into this game would quickly vanish, as Liberty took the opening kickoff and found themselves in the end-zone just five plays later. This drive foreshadowed how the game would go, as the Flames were able to connect on chunk plays at will. QB Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert went 4/4 on the drive connecting on passes of 11 yards, 16 yards, and 11 yards before connecting on a 19 yard TD pass to TE Michael Bollinger.

The Bulls countered with a decent drive of their own, marching the ball from their own 15 yard line down to the Liberty 20, leaving K Alex McNulty with a 37 yard FG that he missed wide left. On this drive the Bulls went for it on 4th and 1 from their own 24. QB Matt Myers was able to pick it up on a QB sneak, but it shows the aggression that Head Coach Lance Leipold is looking to play with without P Evan Finegan.

The UB defense bounced back well on Liberty’s second drive of the game. After the Flames took over at their own 20 yard line, the Bulls pushed Liberty back to their own 10 yard line thanks to a sack by Ledarius Mack on third down. The Liberty punter was forced to kick out of his own endzone, UB’s Ron Cook fielded the punt and returned it back to the Liberty 40.

Buffalo took over with 2:22 left in the first quarter. The Bulls managed to drive down to the Liberty 13 yard line on the back of Jaret Patterson before the quarter ended. On the first play of the second quarter Matt Myers connected with Dylan McDuffie, working out of the slot, on a 13 yard TD pass. After a made PAT by Alex McNulty, the score was knotted at 7-7.

Following the kickoff, Liberty got the ball back at their own 26 and the Flames looked much more like the Flames of their first drive than their second. It took just seven plays for the Liberty offense to find pay dirt, as the Bulls’ secondary was unable to find the answer to Calvert and the Liberty receiving corps. The final play of the drive was a 33 yard pass from Calvert to WR Kevin Shaa.

The Liberty kickoff was taken for a touchback, however a personal foul on the Bulls moved the ball back to the UB 13 yard line. From there, Myers connected with Marlyn Johnson for a 33 yard completion, and Liberty commited a personal foul which moved the Bulls to the Liberty 38. After an incomplete pass, and 8 yards on the ground from Kevin Marks, Lance Leipold was left with a tough 4th and 2 decision at the Liberty 30. With Alex McNulty already missing a 37 yarder earlier in the game, Leipold elected to leave the offense on the field. Kevin Marks picked up one yard on a run between the tackles but was unable to pick up the necessary yardage for a first down.

The failed fourth down conversion left Liberty with the ball at their own 29 yard line. The Buffalo run defense remained stout, however Liberty was able to take what they wanted through the air, connecting on 8 and 15 yard completions, before Calvert connected with star WR Antonio Gandy-Golden for a 36 yard TD completion to give Liberty a 21-7 lead.

By this time, the Bulls were visibly frustrated and that would come back to bite them on their next drive. After advancing the ball 10 yards, and picking up a first down LT Evin Ksiezarczyk was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, that left the Bulls with a 3rd and 21. On the following play the offensive line ceded their first sack of the game, an uncharacteristic two play sequence from a veteran offensive line. This left the Bulls with 4th and 28 from their own 17 yard line, forcing Leipold to dial backup QB Kyle Vantrease’s number for the first time this game as a punter. Vantrease’s punt was downed just 14 yards past the line of scrimmage at the UB 31.

With the Liberty offense clicking on all cylinders it took just two plays for them to find their way into the endzone. A 30 yard completion to Antonio Gandy-Golden setup a 1 yard rushing TD for RB Frankie Hickson. The wheels were off and UB was down 28-7.

On their last drive of the half, the Bulls tried to get some momentum going. The Bulls found themselves in Liberty territory after runs of 13, 10, and 23 yards by Kevin Marks got them to the Liberty 28 yard line. However, after a Marks carry for no gain, and two incompletions, they would not advance any further. This left Alex McNulty with a 45 yard field goal attempt, which he would miss wide right.

Liberty took control of the ball following the missed kick with 0:29 left in the first half. The Flames elected to kneel and take their 28-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.

UB got the ball first coming out of the half, however they were unable to capitalize on the opportunity to get some positive momentum going their way. The Bulls went three and out after second and third down incompletions by Matt Myers. Kyle Vantrease had a better second punt of the night, netting 33 yards before being downed at the Liberty 44.

On Liberty’s first drive of the second half they were able to gain some traction, advancing to the UB 33 on a 22 yard rush by RB Joshua Mack, however their drive stalled after a Liberty player was called for an illegal block below the waist which backed the Flames out to the UB 48 yard line. Liberty would go on to punt, P Aidan Alves netted 28 yards on the punt that was fair caught by Ron Cook at the UB 20.

After taking over after the punt the Bulls offense led their second most sustained drive of the night running 13 plays over 5:56 to move the ball from their own 20 to the Liberty 28. A sack on their final set of downs put the offense in tough position and the Bulls had to settle for a field goal. Alex McNulty hit a 45 yard FG on his third attempt of the night to cut the defecit to 18.

The Flames and Bulls traded punts after not being able to get much going on each of their next possessions. After the Buffalo punt, Liberty took over at their own 45, and on the first play Stephen Calvert threw a strike to Antonio Gandy-Golden on a 55 yard TD pass to give the Flames a 35-10 lead.

The Bulls took back over with eight seconds left in the third quarter at their own 13 yard line. Fueled by Matt Myers, connecting on a 27 yard pass to WR Antonio Nunn and scrambling for a 10 yard gain, the Bulls advanced to the the Liberty 38 where they were left with 4th and 6. Down four scores, the Bulls elected to go for it but Myers was unable to find Dylan McDuffie, so the Bulls turned it back over on downs to the Flames.

On the penultimate Liberty drive, the Buffalo defense ceded just one first down prior to forcing a Liberty punt. Due to Liberty’s good starting field position at their own 38, they punted from the UB 42, pinning the Bulls at the UB 11 on a 31 yard punt.

On the Bulls’ final drive they would record the last score of the game. This drive was sustained by a pair of big Kevin Marks runs, a couple of solid completions from Matt Myers, and a personal foul on Liberty. The drive culminated in a 5 yard TD pass from Myers to reserve RS freshman TE Cole Burniston.

On Liberty’s final drive of the game they drove the ball from their own 25 to the UB 8 but ended up just running the clock out to end the game. The final score was Liberty 35, UB 17.

After an easy week 1 win, and a week 2 loss that most UB fans expected, the Liberty game figured to be the first true gauge of UB this year, and most UB fans were likely disappointed in what this game showed. The Bulls were thoroughly outclassed in most aspects of the game. The run defense was good, and the rushing attack on offense was solid, but UB fans hoped to see more against a struggling Liberty team.