Published Sat, Oct 8, 2011 10:24 pm Dateline
Updated Tue, Oct 11, 2011 3:58 pm
Sixty-seven yards later, Ohio wide receiver LaVon Brazill was celebrating his 17th career touchdown and the Bobcats' first lead of the evening.
Less than 30 seconds later, that lead was gone.
Running back Branden Oliver and quarterback Chazz Anderson tortured Ohio's defense for 522 yards and Buffalo beat the Bobcats 38-37 in a wildly entertaining contest.
The yardage total is staggering, but the biggest play of the game came on a first-and-10 from the Buffalo 10-yard line. Anderson threw a swing pass to Eddie Young, and the speedy wide receiver ran forever. Ninety yards, to be exact, and Young's touchdown tied the score at 31.
After a Matt Weller field goal made the score 34-31, Buffalo staged an 18-play, 88-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes and capped it off with an Oliver touchdown on fourth and goal from the one.
On paper, this was a game Ohio was supposed to win. Buffalo entered Saturday 1-4, but had lost to Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Connecticut. Ohio found out quickly that Buffalo was one of the most athletic teams it had seen all year. The Bulls scored on four of their first six possessions.
If the 'Cats wanted to win 10 games or wanted to win the MAC, they needed to run through October unblemished.
Because of injuries to the defense, that didn't happen on a Saturday in Buffalo.
--Linebacker Eric Benjamin. Defensive linemen Jeff King, Carl Jones, Curtis Meyers and Neal Huynh. Cornerbacks Xavier Hughes and Omar Leftwich.
That's the list of Bobcats who either didn't play due to illness or injury or played with a noticeable ailment.
It's tough to win with so few starters actually playing, but Ohio's offense did its best to bail out its banged-up counterparts. It just came up one point, or one throw, short.
With the 'Cats staring at a third-and-six from the Buffalo 12 with just over four minutes left in the third quarter, Tyler Tettleton was intercepted in the corner of the end zone. Buffalo didn't get points on the ensuing possession, but even a field goal on that drive would make the game very different late in the fourth.
Tettleton's game (23/37, 203 yards, TD, INT) was better on the ground than it was in the air. The sophomore ran for 90 yards (66 net) on 13 carries, but was sacked four times and was pressured constantly by the Buffalo defensive front. Three of those sacks happened on either third or fourth down, including the game-clincher on fourth and five with 1:37 to go in the game.
His counterpart, Anderson, had the best game of his season. The fifth-year senior threw for 343 yards on 23 of 39 passing and two touchdowns, and was especially comfortable in the first half, when the Bulls led 21-7 and scored on four of their first six possessions.
He and Oliver, a sophomore who had averaged 100 yards per game in Buffalo's first five games, accounted for every yard the Bulls gained. Oliver was untouchable at times and finished with 179 yards on 28 carries.
Still though, through injuries and penalties, Ohio was in it to the end. Ohio won the special teams category for maybe the first time all year, but lost in the other two aspects of the game, especially on Young's 90-yard catch-and-run.
Although the television replays showed that Young stepped on the sideline, every defender missed him. That play, maybe more than any other, showed the inexperience of a decimated defense.
Ohio still controls its own destiny in the East division of the MAC, but with games remaining against Temple, Bowling Green and Miami (OH), the 'Cats no longer have any breathing room.
Ball State is next, followed by Akron, and it's clear now that Ohio must win every remaining conference game if it wants to take the chartered flight to Detroit for the MAC Championship.
Two things can derail a season of great expectations faster than anything else. The first is turnovers. Ohio's first loss of 2011, to Rutgers, is the prime example of how turning the ball over can quickly notch a tally in the "L" column.
The other, more unavoidable deadly aspect, is injuries. Frank Solich said at Ohio's July media day that he believed injuries balance themselves out; that for every period in which a team is truly healthy, that same team will have an "Oh-no-not-another-one" stretch.
Injuries are part of the game, sure, but Ohio must be wondering if the injury situation is a part of the whole or if injuries will end up being the reason this team watches the MAC title game from Athens.