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Rich Pete had three rushing touchdowns against his hometown team, but it wasn’t enough as Utica defeated Buffalo State 51-44.
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Andrew Benkwitt complete a school-record 38 passes for 398 yards and a school-record six touchdown passes.
Playing in their third straight home game in as many weeks, the Buffalo State football team left their fans going home disappointed again.
The Bengals (2-4/0-3) blew a 16-point lead to Utica (3-2/1-1) in the fourth quarter as quarterback Andrew Benkwitt threw four of his school-record six touchdown passes in the final quarter, including the game-winner with 13 seconds remaining to defeat Buffalo State 51-44.
“I was thinking that we’ve got to go out there and play football,” Benkwitt said. “It happens. We’ve been down before and we just have to keep chugging away and play football. There’s nothing else you can do.”
Benkwitt completed a school-record 38 of 58 passes for 398 yards as both teams combined for 961 yards of total offense. The Bengals had 189 yards on the ground with six rushing touchdowns, but it was the four turnovers that ultimately decided the game.
Buffalo State fell behind early after quarterback Casey Kacz had his first pass of the game intercepted by safety James Lenahan. The Pioneers capitalized on the turnover to take a 7-0 lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Benkwitt to wide receiver Jeremy Meier, who had a school record four touchdowns.
For the third straight week, the Bengals allowed a blocked punt as cornerback Shawn Mitchell broke through to get his hand on the ball, which eventually was recovered by his teammate, wide receiver Paul Smith at the Buffalo State 26 yard line. Benkwitt took advantage of the field position, capping off the six-play 26-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jamie Murphy and a 14-0 lead.
A 46-yard kick return by Caesarae Lewis shortened the field for the Bengals on their next possession. Running back Rich Pete finished the nine-play 50-yard drive with one-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 14-7.
“We told ourselves that we’ve got to get together and try to win this game,” Pete said. “So we pulled together and I followed my O-line and the leader, Casey.”
Linebacker Pasquale Vacchio helped swing the momentum in favor of Buffalo State as he intercepted Benkwitt to set the Bengals’ offense with great field position again.
“I read the receiver and I read the quarterback’s eyes,” Vacchio said. “I just jumped the route that was right in front of me. It helped the momentum for the offense at the time.”
Kacz followed up with 47-yard pass to wide receiver Dave Jacobs and running back Ismail Brooks finished the drive with a two-yard score. Kicker Nate Benoit had his extra point blocked and the Bengals trailed 14-13.
“Everyone was just excited,” Brooks said. “We were basically just driving and everyone was saying ‘just one play at a time, just one play at a time and it will come’ and it did.”
Both teams punted on their ensuing possession before Utica’s offense found rhythm with an 8-play 56-yard drive to score on a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Jesse Baldassare with 41 seconds left in the half. The Bengals drove 45 yards in a hurry-up offense as Benoit hit a 36-yard field goal on final play of the half with Utica leading 21-16.
Buffalo State’s offense came out of the half fired up as Kacz operated a 5-play 78-yard drive featuring a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Sherman Nelson on the first play and a Brooks 25-yard run before Kacz finished with an eight yard quarterback keep to give the Bengals a 23-21 lead.
After the defense forced the Pioneers to punt, Kacz threw a 38-yard pass to Nelson and then Pete took the carry for a 35-yard score.
“I just told myself I’m not getting tackled and I’ve got to score,” Pete said. “My right tackle pulled and I just followed behind him and he led me to the promise land.”
On the Pioneers’ next possession, Vacchio made his presence felt again as he forced a fumble by Baldassare with safety/linebacker Brandon Hodgins making the recovery. Three plays later and the Bengals had a 37-21 lead as Brooks scored on a six-yard run.
After outscoring Utica 21-0 in the 3rd quarter, it looked like Buffalo State was about to run away with the game, but Kacz threw another interception to Lenahan, sparking a 30-point 4th quarter for the Pioneers. Benkwitt capitalized off the turnover with a nine-play 66-yard drive resulting in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Meier and then connecting on the conversion with tight end Lucas Harder, making the score 37-29 in favor of Buffalo State.
Following punts on the ensuing possession for both teams, the Bengals pushed their lead to 44-29 with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter as Pete earned his third rushing touchdown with a one-yard score. It was set up from a 31-yard pass from Kacz to Pete.
Utica answered back with a six-play 65-yard drive, capped off by a seven-yard touchdown pass from Benkwitt to wide receiver Alex DeRusso to cut the deficit to 44-36.
Buffalo State went three-and-out on their next possession and forced a punt on defense, but a muffed punt by Nelson gave the ball back to Utica as Mitchell recovered the ball at the Buffalo State 35 yard line. Benkwitt took advantage of the field position with four completions and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Meier before a two-point conversion pass to Baldassare to tie the game 44-44 with 2:47 remaining.
The Bengals tried to answer back, but Kacz was sacked and stripped by linebacker Chris Adams on 3rd-and-17 with safety Cedric Hairston making the recovery at the Utica 40 yard line with 34 seconds left.
Benkwitt completed a 33-yard pass to DeRusso to get to the Buffalo State 27 yard line with 27 seconds left before calling timeout. After an incomplete pass, he completed a 17-yard pass to Murphy before hitting Meier for the game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass.
“The first thought in my mind was that we were going to score,” Benkwitt said. “I got hit so I didn’t see, but I heard the crowd go crazy and I knew that we scored.”
“We were able to execute because guys were doing their job,” Benkwitt added. “The O-line made the blocks that they have to and the skill guys went out and made the plays that they had to.”
Buffalo State will try to get their first conference win in the Empire 8 against Ithaca on Saturday at 1 p.m. Ithaca is coming off of their first loss of the season to Alfred.