BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Bobcat comeback came up just short.
In its regular season finale, the Ohio football team battled back from 17 points down to tie the game at 24, but surrendered one final touchdown to Mid-American Conference host Buffalo, giving the Bulls a 31-24 victory on Friday afternoon in the Empire State.
Buffalo (6-7, 4-4 MAC) — which claimed its third straight victory and became the seventh MAC team to earn bowl eligibility — forced the Bobcats (8-4, 5-3) into a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive.
The Bulls needed only three plays to cover 69 yards and break the scoreless tie, with sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson connecting with Anthony Johnson for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Adam Mitcheson made his first of four extra-point kicks to give the hosts a 7-0 lead with 12:18 left in the first quarter.
On the third play of the ensuing Bobcat possession, UB senior Demone Harris came up with a sack and a forced fumble. Buffalo junior Chuck Harris scooped the loose ball and returned it 20 yards for the touchdown, extending the UB lead to 14-0 just 3:32 into play.
Ohio’s offense answered with a 14-play, 75-yard drive, which sophomore quarterback Nathan Rourke capped off with a seven-yard touchdown run. Louie Zervos added the point-after, his first of three, cutting the UB lead to 14-7 with 3:42 left in the first period.
The Bull lead was back to 14 points in a matter of 1:31, as Jackson and Johnson hooked up for another touchdown, this time from 54 yards out.
Following another OU three-and-out, the Buffalo offense took over with 53 yards to paydirt. The hosts covered 21 yards in six plays and settled for a 49-yard Mitcheson field goal, extending the lead to 24-7 as time expired in the opening stanza.
After a punt by each side, the Bobcats got those three points back, as Zervos made a 44-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the half, capping off a 10-play, 53-yard drive and making Buffalo’s halftime lead 24-10.
Ohio punted on its first drive of the second half, but covered 73 yards in eight plays on its second drive. Rourke punched into the endzone from one-yard out 5:55 into the third quarter, cutting Buffalo’s advantage to 24-17.
The Bobcats tied the game at 24 on its next drive, covering 92 yards in four plays, with Rourke finding freshman Cameron Odom for a 57-yard touchdown with 53 seconds left in the third.
Buffalo punted on its first five possessions of the second half, but began its sixth drive just six yards from paydirt after a 39-yard punt return by K.J Osborn.
After a five-yard run on first down, Emmanuel Reed put the Bulls back on top with a one-yard touchdown run on second down.
Ohio went 62 yards on the ensuing drive, before Khalil Hodge picked off a pass in the endzone with 1:20 to play, sealing the 31-24 UB victory.
For the game, Ohio held a 242-to-350 advantage in total offense, including 159-to-56 on the ground. The Bobcats earned a 20-to-16 edge in first downs, with both teams punting four times. OU also held an 11:44 advantage in time of possession, but Buffalo came up with the game’s only two takeaways.
The Green and White were 7-of-17 on third down conversions and 1-of-2 on fourth downs, with UB converting on 5-of-12 third downs, without attempting a fourth down conversion.
Rourke finished with 265 yards and one touchdown on 15-of-30 passing, to go with 49 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries. Rourke’s 21 rushing scores this fall is a new school record.
True freshman Julian Ross led the Bobcats on the ground with 81 yards on 19 attempts. David Burroughs added 11 yards on four carries, A.J. Ouellette was held to just nine yards on a pair of totes, while Jalen Fox and Quinton Maxwell had a five-yard and a four-yard rush respectively.
Papi White hauled in a team-best five passes for 49 yards to lead the Bobcat receiving unit. Mason Morgan and Jerrid Marhefka had three grabs apiece, earning 49 and 25 yards respectively. Odom had two catches for 85 yards and one score, while Andrew Meyer caught a 40-yard pass and Burroughs snagged a seven-yard pass.
The Bobcats were forced to play without injured seniors Julian Ross and Brendan Cope, known as key contributors to the rushing and receiving attack respectively.
Ohio’s defense was led by Bradd Ellis with six tackles, including five solo. Quentin Poling and Kent Berger each had a sack in the setback.
For UB, Jackson was 19-of-30 passing for 294 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson had game-highs of six receptions, 155 yards and two receiving touchdowns, while Reed led the Buffalo run game with 63 yards and one score on 18 tries.
The Bulls are now just four games back of Ohio in the all-time series, with this as the 24th meeting. The home team has claimed victory in eight straight meetings.
Ohio heads into bowl season on a two-game skid and will finish second in the final MAC East Division standings, behind Akron.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.