Kicking off Mid-American Conference play, the Eagles hosted the Buffalo Bulls inside 'The Factory' at Rynearson Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 12 p.m. for family day and a classic car show.
The Bulls, 0-3, arrived aiming to snap their losing streak and successfully did so after putting up 50 points on the Eagles defense. The last time these two squads met was in 2019 when Buffalo handily beat the Eagles 14-43.
Hardly 90 seconds into the game, Buffalo wide receiver Quian Williams had a nearly free sprint to the EMU end zone, being stopped just one yard short. This caused a first and goal situation that ultimately resulted in a touchdown for Buffalo on their opening drive. Williams, in his second year at Buffalo, is a former Eagle and familiar face to many still on the team. In his return to his alma mater, he hauled in six receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown.
The Bulls early score did little to dampen the Eagles spirits as junior running back Jaylon Jackson returned the following kickoff for a touchdown. This marked the Eagles first kickoff return for six since 2013 against Ohio.
It wasn't until there were five minutes remaining in the first quarter when Buffalo saw more points, as junior quarterback Cole Snyder found Williams once more, this time in the end zone. Somewhat softening the blow, the Buffalo extra point by senior kicker Alex McNulty was blocked by junior defensive lineman Sterling Miles, snapping McNulty's 111-point streak.
Again, the Eagles were quick to respond just two minutes later when sophomore quarterback Austin Smith, who filled in for injured starting quarterback Taylor Powell, found graduate student wideout Tanner Knue in the end zone to give their team the lead, 14-13. That lead was short-lived however, as the Bulls started the second quarter with another touchdown to reclaim the lead. This score hurt in more ways than one, as there was also an injury timeout for the Eagles, their second of four for the day after graduate student defensive back Blake Bogan left the game earlier.
Despite a mid-quarter field goal by kicker Jesús Gómez, Buffalo extended their lead to 17-27 with a clock-chewing drive that resulted in a rushing touchdown by redshirt freshman Mike Washington. Feeling the time crunch, the Eagles started their last drive of the half with a 67-yard dash by Knue. With just under two minutes left before halftime, the Eagles went for it on fourth down with senior running back Samson Evans tarting under center rushing to successfully make it first and goal. This led to a rushing touchdown for Smith, shortening the Bulls lead to three points, 24-27. To keep fans on their toes, former Eagle Williams responded with a 75-yard kickoff return that resulted in a field goal.
The Eagles received the ball to begin the second half and capitalized on the early possession, starting the drive with a 29-yard pass from Smith to Knue. Smith proceeded to do a couple quarterback keeps to give the Eagles first and goal and their first scoring opportunity of the second half. On third and goal, a fumble recovery found the hands of Evans who added a second rushing touchdown to his tally for the day. This gave the Eagles their second lead of the day, 31-30 with 10:38 left in the third quarter.
However, Buffalo was quick to respond in kind, scoring a touchdown of their own less than 90 seconds later and reclaiming the lead at 31-37. The Eagles following drive saw their first punt of the game, landing at Buffalo's own one yard line.
After starting deep in their own half, the visitors put up another time-consuming drive, taking almost seven minutes off the clock when they marched down to EMU's 18-yard line to kick a field goal. Also on this drive, the Eagles lost one of their top performers in graduate student linebacker Joe Sparacio, who was disqualified from the game after a targeting penalty, combined with an unsportsmanlike conduct call from earlier in the match. He recorded five tackles before his ejection
The Eagles subsequent drive resulted in a loss of possession on downs. The Bulls then wasted little time putting more points to the board, adding another field goal by McNulty to extend their lead to 31-43. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their following drive resulted in no points and was again turned over on downs on their own 40-yard line.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Buffalo once more increased their lead to 31-50 with a two-yard quarterback sneak by Snyder. The Eagles suffered an additional loss on this play, with sophomore Peyton Price being ejected after receiving his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the match. He had put up a pair of tackles before his excusal from the game.
Neither side saw much action until only 4:27 left in the game, as a pass from Smith was intercepted by Buffalo linebacker James Patterson. The Eagles handed the Bulls their last possession of the game and first win of the season, with the visiting offense rushing the ball to run out the remainder of the clock.
For the Eagles offense, Tanner Knue led the receivers with three receptions for a total of 106 yards. Quarterback Austin Smith led the rushers with 81 yards, with teammate Samson Evans not far behind at 56 for the game. Defensively, former Sparty linebacker Chase Kline recorded 14 total tackles over the match.
The next time we’ll be able to see the Eagles live will be this coming Saturday, Oct. 1, for EMU’s Homecoming game versus the University of Massachusetts at Rynearson stadium, kicking off at 2 p.m.
For more information on the Eastern Michigan University football team, visit EMUEagles.com.