Special teams mistakes doomed the Miami University football team in a 29-25 loss to State University of New York Buffalo Thursday night. Two RedHawk field goal penalties gave the Bulls 14 points, a margin too large in a five-point decision.
"Tough one for us. I don't feel this way often after any losses," head coach Chuck Martin said. "I felt like we deserved a better fate."
The first blunder was freshman defensive back Allan Koikoi's roughing the kicker penalty during the second quarter. Buffalo had moved 60 yards up the field, but Miami's defense stopped the Bulls at the MU 20-yard line, forcing a field goal. Koikoi's penalty gave UB a first down, and two plays later, junior running back Jordan Johnson rushed 2 yards into the end zone.
"If we had just stood there and did nothing, we'd win the game," Martin said.
The next mishap was senior defensive lineman Mitch Winters' personal foul on a UB field goal attempt in the third quarter. The referees called roughing the center, a penalty Martin said he had never seen before. Senior defensive lineman Bryson Albright had sacked UB senior quarterback Joe Licata on third down, forcing the field goal, but the personal foul put UB back at first down. Johnson rushed 6 yards over the left end for the TD.
"If we walk away with no penalties on those, then we get three points instead of 14," sophomore wide receiver Sam Martin said. "We'd win the game."
Miami's defense was the story of the first quarter. UB started with short field position at their own 45-yard line, but the RedHawks held the Bulls to a field goal.
Buffalo reached Miami's 23 on its next drive, but Johnson was tackled for a loss twice in a row. On the next play, redshirt senior defensive back Brison Burris intercepted Licata and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown, giving Miami a 7-3 lead. Burris said it was probably the longest INT return of his career.
"We just wanna compete out there," Burris said. "There's no different mindset, no change from different games. We just wanna compete at our hardest level. And we wanna go out there and have fun. I think everyone competed to the best of their ability."
The lead didn't last long though. As soon as Buffalo regained the field, Licata hit Willoughby for a 78-yard touchdown pass.
Senior Kaleb Patterson's 33-yard field goal tied it up at 10-10 at the 10:16 mark in the second quarter, but the Bulls regained a 17-10 lead six minutes later on a Johnson 2-yard touchdown run and extra point.
On the next possession, freshman quarterback Billy Bahl connected with redshirt sophomore receiver Jared Murphy for a 38-yard gain. Two plays later, Bahl hit sophomore wideout Sam Martin for a 16-yard touchdown.
The half ended in a 17-17 tie. It was Miami's first non-losing score at the half since Week 1 against Presbyterian College.
"It's 0-0 at that point and we gotta keep competing," Sam Martin said. "We can't get complacent. We gotta keep doing what we're doing well and we gotta fix our mistakes."
After Buffalo took a 23-17 lead 4:45 into the third quarter, freshman running back Maurice Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards, placing Miami at the UB 44. The RedHawk offense couldn't take advantage of the short field position. MU opted for the FG, but Patterson's 42-yard attempt was no good, missing wide left.
After Buffalo took over on downs, Licata led the Bulls 75 yards and hit Willoughby for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Miami was held scoreless through the second half until sophomore tight end Ryan Smith hauled in a 2-yard catch with 2:21 left on the clock.
Sam Martin said despite the mistakes, he sees improvement in the team.
"Earlier in the season, aside from Cincinnati, we really weren't scoring many points," the receiver said. "Now, when we're in our groove and we're comfortable, we can put points on the board whenever we want. We know we're capable of doing so."
Martin finished with 95 yards and one touchdown on four catches. Bahl completed 13 of 36 attempts for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
The RedHawks fall to 1-8 (0-5 Mid-American Conference), while the Bulls improve to 4-4 (2-2 MAC). MU continues conference play against Eastern Michigan University on Nov. 7 in Oxford, Ohio.