The Buffalo Bulls (7-5, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) are still in search of their first bowl win in program history, and the Charlotte 49ers (7-5, 5-3 Conference USA) are even more unique to this experience, playing in their first bowl game.
Both teams touched down in Nassau, The Bahamas, yesterday, preparing to start their bowl experience and kick off the 2019 college football postseason in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, the sixth annual NCAA postseason football game here in The Bahamas, is set for this Friday starting at 2 p.m. at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. It will be broadcast on ESPN and is sponsored by the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
Leaving temperatures in the low 30s where it’s snowing on a daily basis, Buffalo Head Coach Lance Leipold said that they are happy to be here in The Bahamas and get the bowl season underway. A number of activities are planned prior to the game on Friday. There is a scheduled visit to the Ranfurly Homes for Children and the Children’s Emergency Hostel on Tuesday at which time hurricane relief items will be donated and a youth football clinic on Wednesday, just to name some of the events. Both teams will practice on Thursday before the big game on Friday – the first-ever meeting between the two schools in college football.
“It’s very exciting. This is going to be an experience of a lifetime for these players and they’re all looking forward to it,” said Leipold upon his arrival at the Atlantis Resort on Monday. “We could feel the energy straight through the entire trip. When we hit the seventh win, we were hoping that this would be a place that we would be selected to go to. We’re looking forward to a great week.
“It’s all about watching guys experience things that they wouldn’t get a chance to experience otherwise. I think that we will make this trip very fulfilling at the early part of the week, and then make sure we get focused to play an excellent football game against an excellent football team and make this game exciting as it has been in previous years.”
The Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl will kick off a 39-game schedule in the 2019-2020 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) bowl season which will culminate with the national championship game in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Monday January 13, 2020. Leipold said that at the end of the day, it’s a business trip and they have to remember the reason why they are here which is to win a football game.
“It’s going to be a challenge to balance preparation for the game around the activities that they have here, but as it gets closer to kickoff, we’ll get back into the more normal routines and hopefully our team will embrace it and go out there and play well,” he said.
Meanwhile, their players are just sucking up the experience so far.
“It’s amazing. It’s beautiful here. Everyone is excited,” said Bulls defensive end Taylor Riggins, a junior. “It’s good to be out of that cold weather up in Buffalo and come here and enjoy some sunshine – take off some clothes and have fun in the sun. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A lot of people on the team might never get a chance to come here again, so we’re looking to take advantage of this and hopefully come out with a win.
“We worked so hard this year to get that 13th game for our seniors. It means a lot to them and it means a lot to us to be able to do that for them. Hopefully we’ll be able to send them out on a good note. It’s real important for us to stay focused. At the end of the day, we still have a task at hand which is to win a football game and take home the first bowl win in school history.”
Tight end Zac Lefebvre added: “It’s amazing here – just looking forward to everything. Everyone is excited to be here – we couldn’t wait. Coming down here to this weather is like no other experience. It’s great.”
Charlotte Head Coach Will Healy guided them on a five-game winning streak at the end of the regular season to reach bowl eligibility. He said that this is the trip of a lifetime for them.
“It’s a dream trip. I wish I had seen their faces when they walked through the casino and out to the beach. This is a special place and we’re very excited to be here,” said Healy. “We’re looking forward to playing a great football team and just enjoying the experience. My thing is, when it’s time to lock in, let’s lock in and get ready to play. These guys are mature. We have an older group that is locked in during the week. We’ll enjoy the first couple days, and then get locked in on Wednesday and Thursday.”
Like the Buffalo players, Victor Tucker, a redshirt sophomore wide receiver with the 49ers, is in awe of the mystique and amenities of Atlantis, and the destination of The Bahamas on the whole.
“I’m amazed. To be coming here to The Bahamas with this team and this staff is truly special. There’s no better feeling right now,” he said. “We just want to be able to enjoy this experience, and when it’s time to play football, let’s play. It’s good to spend time with teammates in a foreign place and just bond together.”
He said as a team, they spoke about representing the school in the first bowl game in program history and added that it’s a joy to be realizing that dream.
“This is something that we talked about as a unit from the beginning of the season – being able to make history for the school,” he said. “That’s the mindset that we had this whole season, so we’re just keeping it going. In the beginning we didn’t get the results that we wanted, but to stay persistent and see it pay off at the end of the year is a good feeling, and then to be rewarded with a great trip like this is truly a blessing.”
The 49ers have won five straight games coming into Friday’s bowl game, and the Bulls have won five of their last six. They are both guaranteed of a winning record at the conclusion of Friday’s game.
The 49ers’ powerful offense is led by versatile quarterback Chris Reynolds and 1,000-yard rusher Benny LeMay. Their defense is headlined by defensive end Alex Highsmith, the 49ers’ all-time sack leader, and linebacker Jeff Gemmell, who recently recorded his program-best 300th career tackle.
Buffalo is playing in its fourth bowl game in program history and second straight, but is still in search of its first bowl win.
The Bulls leads the MAC and ranks fourth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 95.3 yards per game. With Jaret Patterson (1,626) and Kevin Marks (1,008), the Bulls have two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in school history. The Bulls shattered its previous single-season rushing high with 3,241 yards this season – their previous high was 2,648 yards set last season over 14 games. Patterson set a new single-season school record in rushing yards and ranks fifth in the nation in rushing. He also had a school record 17 rushing touchdowns.
The Bulls also rank second in the nation in sacks allowed (eight), and the Bulls’ defense has only allowed one 100-yard rusher on the season.
The visit to the Ranfurly Homes for Children and the Children’s Emergency Hostel is set for today and the youth football clinic will be held on Wednesday.