Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn watched in dismay as his Bulls fell far behind a fired-up Army team anxious to get new coach Jeff Monken a victory in his first game.
Trailing 47-17 early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls staged a furious 22-point rally, falling one possession short in a 47-39 loss at sweltering Miche Stadium on Saturday.
The Bulls (1-1), who haven't won a nonconference road game since beating UTEP 23-17 in 2009, were done in by three interceptions the Black Knights (1-0) turned into touchdowns, and Army's bruising running game. Army also overcame 12 penalties for 105 yards.
"There are going to be plays we're going to look at and say we did that very well and there were plays we didn't do very well," Quinn said. "A lot of it is just going to be us being able to be mature and responsible and be accountable for what took place out there. I know we have a mature team that understands that. They're hurting right now. It's a disappointing loss."
The Bulls are in search of a second straight winning season, something that hasn't happened since 1983-84.
"You've got to play each down," Quinn said. "You've got to be sound in everything that you do, and we weren't able to do that consistently. Bottom line is how we responded offensively."
Joe Licata was 34 of 49 for 396 yards and five touchdowns, while Marcus McGill had six catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns to pace Buffalo.
Larry Dixon ran for a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns, one of six Army players to score as the Black Knights gained 341 yards rushing and snapped a five-game losing streak.
"It's certainly uplifting to have a coach that's so supporting of us and everything we do," Army senior defensive tackle Joe Drummond said after just his ninth win at West Point. "The entire staff is more excited than we are at this point. We've got this win, we've got a lot of things to work on, but to come off the field and getting a win is exactly what we were looking for."
It seemed so easy for the better part of the game as Army built its bulging lead early in the fourth quarter on 4-yard scoring runs by Angel Santiago and Matt Giachinta.
Undaunted, Licata led the Bulls back to make it a one-possession game. Buffalo recovered an onside kick and a fumbled pitch, and Licata took advantage, throwing three TD passes, two to Devin Campbell and one to McGill.
Campbell's 8-yard catch with 2:42 left was the final score. The Bulls had one more chance, but Licata threw two incompletions and they fell a yard short of a first down.
"You dig yourself in a hole against a team that chops the clock and runs the ball well, as a team we weren't able to pull off the win," Quinn said. "We just turned the ball over too many times in some key situations, and that's what hurt us."
The Black Knights finished 3-9 last season under Rich Ellerson, who was fired after his fifth straight loss to Navy. Monken, who served as an assistant coach to Paul Johnson at Navy and Georgia Tech, was hired as head coach last December after a four-year stint as head coach at FCS power Georgia Southern.
Some timely runs against a stacked Buffalo line, a conservative-but-flawless passing game that surprised the Bulls more than once, and a defense that stiffened when it had to and forced a critical turnover helped stake Army to an 18-point halftime lead.
The Monken era got off to a shaky start when Santiago fumbled on the game's second play from scrimmage. Witney Sherry recovered for the Bulls at the Army 48, but they had to settle for Patrick Clarke's 22-yard field goal when the Army defense stiffened inside the 10.
Army got on track on its next possession, driving 75 yards for a touchdown despite penalties on consecutive plays. Santiago gained three yards on a fourth-and-1 play and Dixon scampered up the middle on a 23-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 lead with 4:20 left in the first quarter.
A personal foul against Army's Geoffery Bacon placed the Black Knights in more jeopardy late in the first, giving the Bulls a first down at the Army 25. But the Black Knights held again and Clarke's 35-yard field goal attempt was wide right.
A 39-yard gain set up Tony Giovannelli's 4-yard touchdown, which gave Army a 14-3 lead early in the second. The Black Knights seemed content to take that lead into halftime before cornerback Chris Carnegie intercepted Licata at the 37 and returned it to the Buffalo 8 with 34 seconds left.
Maples scored on a 4-yard pitch right for a 21-3 halftime lead.