UB Bulls can’t spoil homecoming party for Toledo’s Fluellen
Fluellen rushed for 178 of his career-high 228 yards in the second half and scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to bring the Rockets back from a 14-7 deficit and emerge with a 25-20 win over the Bulls at a rain-soaked UB Stadium.
The Bulls (1-7 overall, 0-4 in Mid-American Conference play) had a chance to get a go-ahead score at the end, getting the ball back at their own 9 with 1:48 to play. Joe Licata, who replaced a shaken up Alex Zordich late in the third quarter, found Fred Lee for a 16-yard gain, but then absorbed a strip-sack by Jayrone Elliott. The loose ball was recovered by Toledo’s Colby Kratch to secure the win.
“The defense did a great job of getting us the ball back,” Licata said of the Toledo drive which stalled near midfield after nine scrimmage plays. “We couldn’t pull through. It was very disappointing.”
“We weren’t able to complete the mission, and it was a very difficult loss,” added Bulls coach Jeff Quinn. “It was certainly a hard-fought battle.”
The close loss to a powerful Toledo squad (8-1, 5-0) marked the third time this season where Buffalo lost by seven points or less (it also happened against Connecticut and Ohio). And while it didn’t happen Saturday, let’s not forget the losses where UB held a statistical edge over their opponent (Ohio, Pitt). Through it all, junior wide receiver Alex Neutz (Grand Island) remains upbeat about the season.
“We’re not disgusted or discouraged,” said Neutz, who came back from a one-game absence with a game-high 6 receptions for 135 yards and a TD. “It’s emotional. It’s heart-breaking. There are so many games where (with) a one-play difference we could win. It makes us hungrier and makes us want to fight more, because we get that close to tasting it.”
Neutz’ score, on an 8-yard pass from Licata, got the Bulls back to within 25-20 with 14:48 left to play. The TD helped stem a wave of momentum established by Toledo in the third quarter.
The Rockets went into no-huddle mode to open the second half and capped a 73-yard drive with an 8-yard scoring rush by Fluellen. Defensive stalwart Stephen Means blocked the extra point attempt to help UB retain a 14-13 lead.
After the Bulls were forced to punt on their next possession, Fluellen took command, consuming all 86 yards on four rushes and ending the trek with a one-yard plunge which provided Toledo with the lead for good. Means blocked that extra-point kick too, but by that point the momentum had clearly shifted.
“We played a great first half, but it wasn’t good enough,” an intense Means said. “We came out with a lot of mental errors and they put it in the end zone. I shouldn’t have had two blocks because they shouldn’t have scored.”
On their next possession, Toledo went up 25-14 on a 7-yard pass from Terrance Owens to Alex Zmolik. That drive featured another five carries for 35 yards by Fluellen.
Needless to say, Fluellen was pleased to be back in western New York, showing it by rushing for over 100 yards in a fifth straight game and prompting Toledo’s first-year coach Matt Campbell to refer to his tailback as “one of the best running backs in the country.”
“It felt good to be back, playing in front of my hometown crowd and fans,” said Fluellen, who increased his season’s rushing output to 1,181 rushing yards. “I was used to (the conditions). I was getting off the bus and knew I was definitely back home. This was the weather I expected.”
He didn’t expect to have a mundane first half, gaining only 50 yards on 12 carries. He could only observe as each team scored a defensive touchdown in the first quarter. Buffalo scored first on a 23-yard interception return by Cortney Lester and Toledo countered with a 13-yard fumble return by Dan Molls, who also had a game-high 14 tackles.
Devin Campbell reeled in a 42-yard pass from Zordich midway through the second quarter to give the Bulls their 14-7 advantage.
Zordich struggled in the rain, completing 5 of 16 passes for 118 yards. Licata was slightly better, going 5-of-11 for 68 yards. Junior running back Branden Oliver returned from a leg injury which caused him to miss four games, gaining 101 yards on 24 attempts.
Owens, who entered the game with the third-highest career completion percentage in MAC history (66.0%), was also hindered by the conditions, going 12-of-25 for 171 yards. He was intercepted twice for only his third multi-pickoff game of his 28-game collegiate career.
Buffalo will face Mid-American Conference foe Miami (OH) next Saturday at noon in the third game of a four-game homestand. The RedHawks (4-4) toppled Ohio from the ranks of the undefeated while Buffalo was losing.
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