AMHERST, N.Y. — Ohio lined up to defend while Buffalo kicker Alex McNulty prepared for a 26-yard field goal attempt. There was no time on the clock, and Ohio was only up by two points.
It was a chip shot. McNulty hit the attempt dead-on, and the Bobcats shuffled back to their locker room. For the second consecutive week, Ohio had blown a lead in the fourth quarter. It stuttered, stumbled, fumbled and missed every opportunity presented to it to suffer a humiliating 27-26 loss to Buffalo.
It wasn’t just a fourth-quarter lead, the Bobcats (1-6, 1-2 MAC) had held it since their first drive of the game.
“I’m disappointed with how we finished down the stretch,“ Ohio coach Tim Albin said. “Too many mistakes, self-inflicted. Very disappointed. That’s not who we are, but it was today ... I said ‘Hey, the team that comes out in the second half and executes is going to prevail. It’s going to come down to the wire.’ It did, and we did not.”
For the first 15 minutes, Ohio played like a different team. It scored on its first three drives to open the game and moved with efficiency unseen prior to Saturday. Fourteen plays in three drives were all it took to get Ohio out to the biggest lead it held all season.
Quarterback Armani Rogers, in his second start, led a rushing attack that plowed downfield. Rogers and running back De’Montre Tuggle — a duo that’ve proven their effectiveness together in Ohio’s previous two games — rushed for a combined 179 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter.
Rogers even set a new record in the process. The redshirt fifth year started — and ended — Ohio's second drive with a 99-yard touchdown run. Rogers broke out into a sprint along the left sideline and was untouchable by the time he hit Ohio’s 40-yard line. His run broke the record for the longest touchdown run made by a quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history, previously held by Arizona State’s Mark Malone and his 98-yard run from 1979.
But none of that mattered.
The offense didn’t slow down, it dropped off a cliff. Instead of scoring, the Bobcats ate up the clock. Their first drive of the second half took eight minutes and 16 seconds, while Buffalo held the ball for three minutes and 18 seconds in the third quarter.
It wasn’t enough. Ohio spent the rest of the half tripping on penalties and back-to-back fumbles while Buffalo breezed downfield. In the fourth quarter, Buffalo picked up 143 total yards, two touchdowns and McNulty kicked the game-winning field goal.
How far did Ohio get in the fourth quarter? Four yards.
For over 47 minutes, Ohio was shut out of the end zone. It came close when Rogers connected with tight end Ryan Luehrman in the end zone in the third quarter. Ohio might’ve won had it scored there. But an offensive pass interference call on offensive lineman Jay Amburgey nullified the touchdown. Ohio was sent back 15 yards and forced to kick a field goal.
“We did things that we have not done all year,“ Albin said. “We had something similar in Duquesne, but today was just, you know, I'm disappointed with the mistakes that we made. I don't know how else to say it.”
But penalties aren’t what stopped Ohio short of its second win of the season. An offense that evaporated after the first quarter is.
The Bobcats are over the hump of their season. Little, if anything, has gone right for them. Even after scoring on their first three drives of the game, they fell into the same pitfalls that have hampered them since the season began.
If Ohio can’t win with a three-touchdown lead, what can it win with?