On Friday night, as the University of Buffalo’s football players prepared for a team meeting before Saturday’s game against Temple University, Anthony Johnson received a phone call.
The senior wide receiver’s family told him that his childhood friend, 22-year-old De’mon Davis, was killed in his home state of South Carolina. A 22-year-old suspect was arrested Saturday morning and charged with Davis’ murder.
“I was going to go home but my family members told me, ‘Don’t come home, just play through this game first,’” Johnson said.
So he did. Even after vomiting during the third quarter, Johnson returned to the game. With 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter, he became the Bulls’ hero. Playing with a “heavy heart,” he scored the game-winning touchdown in Buffalo’s 36-29 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I wanted to play for him and for my teammates,” Johnson said. “So I just stuck through it, and I came out here and gave it my all, even though I was on and off throwing up but I pushed through it.”
“I honestly didn’t know I was going to go back out, but I just kept throwing up and I just told my coach, ‘I’m ready,’” Johnson added. “I was just waiting on him to put me back in, and he did and I just stepped up and made plays when they called them for me.”
Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Bulls junior quarterback Tyree Jackson on a third-and-10 play from the Owls’ 29-yard line. He cut across the middle of the field from right to left and shed graduate student safety Rodney Williams’ tackle attempt.
Then he evaded a diving attempt by redshirt-sophomore cornerback Kimere Brown and only had senior safety Delvon Randall between him and the pylon at the front left corner of the end zone.
“I’d just seen him running and I tried to get him down, but he broke the pylon before I could get him,” Randall said.
“For him even to go back out there and then to make a play like that with extra effort and everything else with the tank empty, it really says a lot about him as an athlete, as a person,” Buffalo coach Lance Leipold said.
Johnson led Buffalo in receiving on Saturday with six catches for 76 yards. He did so in front of a group of scouts from 10 NFL teams. Johnson made the Mid-American Conference’s first team last season and led the league in receiving touchdowns.
Buffalo’s team is all too familiar with dealing with loss. In March 2016, defensive end Solomon Jackson died of a heart-related issue one week after collapsing during an offseason workout. A different player will wear his former No. 41 each week this season to honor his memory.
Senior cornerback Cameron Lewis, who wore No. 41 on Saturday, said the team made sure to support Johnson on Friday night.
“We’re his second family, so all we did was just stay next to him until he fell asleep, just being there for him just like a brother would do even if we were at home.”
“He didn’t have to play, he didn’t have to be out there for us today, but he did and that just goes to show what kind of kid he is,” Tyree Jackson said.