The University of Buffalo (UB) Bulls had to come to The Bahamas to make history as they won their first-ever bowl game, taking the 6th Annual Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, 31-9, over the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) 49ers at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
Prior to Friday’s win, the Bulls had lost three bowl games in three appearances with the most recent being last year in the Dollar General Bowl against the Troy Trojans.
With the win on Friday, the Bulls ended their season with an 8-5 win-loss record while the 49ers dropped to 7-6.
Lance Leipold, head coach of the Bulls, was proud of his team’s play especially after the long layoff.
“I’m really proud of our guys, especially after a layoff, to play as well as we did, as physical as we did,” Leipold said. “We were able to establish the running game. Our defense, especially in the first half, played outstanding. We got some key fourth down stops, created a couple turnovers. It’s a team effort, but these three gentlemen sitting next to me had great days and great seasons.”
Leipold’s squad, who represented the Mid-American Conference (MAC), struck on their first drive of the game when wide receiver Antonio Nunn made an acrobatic catch, keeping his feet in play on a pass from quarterback Kyle Vantrease. That 12-yard touchdown pass completed a seven-play 61-yard drive.
Nunn’s catch appeared on ESPN Sports Center’s Top Ten Plays at number four.
The 49ers, who represented Conference-USA (C-USA), had no answer for the Bulls’ tenacious defense that held them scoreless in the first half although they had the ball most of the time. They had a field goal attempt in the first quarter but Johnathan Cruz’s kick was far left.
Will Healy, first-year head coach for the 49ers, congratulated Leipold on their first bowl victory. He said that the Bulls took away their momentum early in the game.
“It seemed like any time we got a little momentum going, they took it away from us. We did not execute very well,” Healy said. “We did some things that didn’t help ourselves with some turnovers and some penalties and we didn’t tackle very well. That’s a really good football team in Buffalo and when you do those things this is probably the result you are going to get every time.”
The first quarter ended 7-0 in favor of the Bulls.
The Bulls scored early in the second quarter, starting a drive on their own 26-yard line. After another Vantrease to Nunn connection for 23 yards, the Bulls went back to the running game.
The Bulls got to third down and goal with one yard needed for a touchdown but were unsuccessful. They decided to go for a touchdown on fourth down on the next play. Vantrease rushed the ball into the endzone for a one-yard touchdown to put his team up 13-0. Bulls’ kicker Alex McNulty hit the extra point and the Bulls went up 14-0.
James Patterson, Bulls’ sophomore linebacker, picked off 49ers’ quarterback Chris Reynolds in the second quarter and had a 20-yard return to put his offense in a good field position. They settled on a field goal kick from McNulty and went ahead 17-0.
Patterson was happy with them winning the team’s first bowl game and said they will use it as momentum heading into next season.
“It feels good. Getting this experience and being in the history books and to separate ourselves from the other UB teams is a good feeling,” said Patterson. “This is a building process for us. We’re going to use this as momentum for next year. We can start off fresh and continue our way to the MAC Championship and then another bowl game.”
At the half, the Bulls were up 17-0.
The 49ers did a good job at keeping Bulls’ star running back, James Patterson’s twin brother Jaret Patterson at bay in the first half.
In the second half, Jaret Patterson, the offensive player of the game, came alive, scoring the only two touchdowns for the Bulls in the second half. He finished the game with a total of 173 rushing yards on 32 rushing attempts. Those attempts set a Bahamas Bowl record for attempts.
In the third quarter, Patterson scored on a six-yard touchdown with 5:22 to go. That touchdown put his team up 24-0.
The running back attributed his performance to his offensive line who he said played a huge role in him being able to experience success.
“I just want to send a shout out to the guys up front.” Jaret Patterson said. “The running game started off kind of slow, but I knew it was a four-quarter game – it’s not how you start but it’s how you finish. As the game kept going, I just felt like I was getting in rhythm and finished the game off strong. The defense played lights out. It was a team effort and dominant win for our team.”
The elusive sophomore was unstoppable, particularly in the second half as he left his mark with a 10-yard rushing for a touchdown to put his team up 39-9, late in the game. He said the first bowl win was for the team’s support system.
“It means a lot. It’s our first bowl win ever. The guys who came before us paved the way for us. There’s the whole support we get from the community, from the University of Buffalo and the Buffalo area. This is for them,” Jaret Patterson said.
His twin was not surprised with his brother’s performance.
“It’s nothing new to me. I’ve seen it my whole life,” James Patterson said. “A lot of people ask me, ‘How did he do that?’ I’ll be like, I’ve seen it my whole life, so I’m not surprised. That’s what he does. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen and he’s going to continue to do that,” he added.
Jaret Patterson is ranked fifth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I with 1799 rushing yards as of Saturday, December 21. Leipold said those numbers speak for themselves.
“The stats are great, what he does on the field we’re grateful for, but what he does in our locker room with his work ethic and what it can do for our other younger players as we move forward is going to be pivotal for us to be able to be this type of team,” Leipold said.
The 49ers got on the scoreboard when quarterback Chris Reynolds hooked up with wide receiver Victor Tucker for a 51-yard touchdown with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter. The Bulls still led 24-6 at that point as the 49ers failed on a two-point conversion.
With 10:50 remaining in the final quarter, kicker Johnathan Cruz hit a field goal for the 49ers. The Bulls still led 24-9.
“They have a great defense – very physical. They run to the ball very well, but we had some self-inflicted wounds. When you do that against a good team like this it’s only going to hurt you,” Reynolds said.
The 49ers had three penalties that cost them 20 yards.
Defensively, the Bulls were led by defensive player of the game, defensive end Malcolm Koonce, who finished the game with a bowl record-tying two sacks and five tackles to go with a forced fumble.
“For me, it’s a nice feeling. The way we started, it was kind of rough at the beginning and then we pulled it together that bye week. We locked in, focussed up, and now we’re here,” Koonce said.
Overall, the Bulls recorded a Bahamas Bowl record five sacks. The 49ers did not record a sack.
It was an evenly matched game, yardage-wise, as the Bulls had 282 total yards and the 49ers had 278 yards. The Bulls controlled the ground game, rushing for a total of 205 yards.
The game was played in record-breaking conditions for a Bahamas Bowl game – a low of 73 degrees Fahrenheit and wind speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
Buffalo’s victory evens the series between the MAC and C-USA in the Bahamas Bowl at 3-3, with victories alternating between conferences.