Naturally, it had to come down to the last play.
Like so many games from the 2008 season, the UB football team’s 2009 season opener last night took until the final play to decide. A Hail Mary pass by UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittato floated up near the goal line and was batted down by junior corner Sherrod Lott as time expired in the fourth quarter.
This was two downs after UTEP had seemingly tied the game at 23 when Vittato’s 21-yard touchdown pass to James Thomas was negated by a holding penalty. An excessive celebration penalty on the non-touchdown pushed the Miners back another 10 yards. Vittato sandwiched this nail-biting play and the final toss with a half-hearted and ridiculously short incompletion.
The down-to-the-wire, 23-17 victory is certainly something anyone who has watched UB football the last two seasons has grown accustomed to. Last season, the fans of Turner Gill’s team saw their fair share of overtimes and exciting finales.
The Bulls didn’t seem to miss a beat last night.
The most likable and exciting football team in Western New York survived their first game with a new starting quarterback and new starting running back.
Sophomore Zach Maynard threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in his first career start and it’s tough to ask for much more in his debut. He looked a bit shaky early, but settled in nicely. He forced a few throws but hopefully, the more he plays, the better adjusted he will become.
Junior Brandon Thermilus, whom CBS College Sports’ color analyst Akbar Gbaja-Biamila called “Thurman Thomilus,” did his job filling in for James Starks, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown. Senior Mario Henry added 55 yards and a touchdown of his own. They weren’t spectacular but held their own and showed that the UB run game will still be effective without its all-time leading rusher.
The wide receiving corps, led by seniors Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin, didn’t drop balls and gave Maynard the chance to succeed. It appears as if redshirt-sophomore Terrell Jackson has stepped up as the third receiver as he was the only other wideout besides Roosevelt and the sure-handed Hamlin to catch a pass.
As the Bulls opened the second half, Maynard threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Roosevelt, giving UB a 23-7 lead. Maynard’s first collegiate score also gave Roosevelt sole possession of the school’s all-time touchdown record with 20.
The UB defense bent, but didn’t break, much like they how they performed last year. Junior linebacker Justin Winters led the Bulls with eight tackles and a sack.
Freshman linebacker Darius Willis earned most of the playing time on the right side after starter Imani Chatman was ruled academically ineligible for the season. Willis did not register a tackle in the game but is expected now to play a larger role in Fred Reed’s defensive scheme.
The Bulls’ next game on Saturday will certainly be the place to be on. Pittsburgh comes to town, hot off a 38-3 trouncing of Youngstown State. Dion Lewis rushed for 129 yards and scored three touchdowns in his first college start for the Panthers. Last season, Pittsburgh defeated UB 27-16 behind LeSean McCoy’s 93-yard, three-touchdown performance.
They’ve certainly got their work cut out for them. If nothing else, it should be exciting.