Bengals Fall to Defending Conference Champs

Bengals Fall to Defending Conference Champs
Sean Littlejohn had a career-high 13 tackles, but it wasn’t enough to stop Salisbury, who attempted just three passes and ran the ball 68 times.
Replacing the 2011 Empire 8 Conference Offensive Player of the Year Dan Griffin, Freshman quartrback John Dunbar threw a 59 yard play action touchdown pass to secure the victory

After dropping their Empire 8 Conference debut against Alfred University, the Buffalo State football team followed up with another loss, this time to the defending conference champion Salisbury.

The Sea Gulls, who came into the game ranked seventh in the poll and 11th in the American Football Coaches Association, held the Bengals to just 158 yards of total offense en route to a 20-7 victory. Salisbury had 319 yards of total offense with just three passes attempted and 250 rushing yards on 68 carries as they won the time of possession battle 40:16-19:44.

“It’s a triple option offense and you know that they’re going to grind the ball,” head coach Jerry Boyes said. “Defensively, what you have to do is try to set them off par. If they stay on par, it’s going to be for a long day and we did at times. First of all, I credit our defense. They played extremely hard today and gave us a chance, but offensively we just didn’t answer”

Buffalo State took the opening kickoff and drove down the field after two completed passes from quarterback Casey Kacz to wide receiver Caesarae Lewis of 34 and 16 yards, but failed to convert on a 4th-and-9 at the Salisbury 24 yard line, turning the ball over on downs. The Sea Gulls responded with 13-play 75-yard scoring drive, capped off by a four yard touchdown by quarterback Dan Griffin to take an early 7-0 lead.

“It was something different,” said defensive end Sean Littlejohn, who had a career-high 13 tackles. “They run the double wing which we’ve never seen in any of our prior games. They had four backs that could run the ball, two wings, a fullback and a quarterback. You had to watch all four to see where the ball was going. That’s how they keep everybody’s legs fresh. You have four ball carriers that can do explosive things with the ball.”

Neither team could get much going offensively for the rest of the first half as Griffin had to leave the game early in the second quarter after sustaining an injury and was replaced by backup quarterback John Dunbar.

However, the Sea Gulls were able to extend their lead late in the second half after a blocked punt by Joey Buckley, who then picked it up and ran three yards for a touchdown. The extra point attempt was missed by kicker Jack Molloy and Salisbury led 13-0 with 3:58 left in the second quarter.

“It’s disappointing we get another punt blocked for a touchdown,” said Boyes. “You take that away, it’s a six point game and we’re right there, but we just didn’t.”

The Bengals started to find a rhythm in their passing game on the ensuing possession, but saw their drive end at the Salisbury 40 yard line after failing to convert on 4th-and-3 as running back Ismail Brooks was stopped for an eight yard loss by cornerback Paul Moore. The Sea Gulls ran three plays to end the half with a 13-0 lead.

Salisbury went the entire first half without attempting a pass, racking up 117 yards on 30 carries. Buffalo State struggled to run the ball with -7 yards on 12 carries and just 104 yards of total offense.

The Sea Gulls opened the third quarter with nine straight running plays before attempting their first pass of the game to set up a 4th-and-4 at the Buffalo State 32 yard line. Dunbar tried a quarterback keeper, but Littlejohn stop him two yards short of the first down.

“I read my read and came through,” said Littlejohn. “The tackle came down and I was coming down. I got a free release. Somebody was supposed to come and kick on me and I got a free hit on the back. Maybe it was there mistake. Maybe I got lucky, but all in all, it worked out great and got them off the field.”

Buffalo State tried to capitalize off of the turnover on downs with a 16 yard run by running back Rich Pete, but a 15-yard personal foul call on guard Josh Jesonowski killed the momentum swing and the Bengals went three-and-out.

Salisbury continued their ground attack on their next possession, but on the third play of the drive, they fooled the Bengals with a 59-yard play action touchdown pass from Dunbar to running back Michael Copenhaver to take a 20-0 lead with 5:53 left in the third quarter.

“I saw the safety just sit there and I saw [Matt Copenhaver] just go right by him,” said Dunbar. “He’s one of the fastest kids on the team, so I knew that I just had to get it out there to him.”

Buffalo State followed up with another three-and out, but were setup in better field position after cornerback Jeff Moore blocked a 42-yard Molloy field goal attempt and linebacker/safety Jordan Boser returned it 40 yards to the Salisbury 10 yard line. Kacz scored on the next play with a ten yard quarterback keeper to cut the deficit to 20-7 with 11:16 left in the fourth quarter.

Neither team could do much on offense for the rest of the game as the Sea Gulls worked the clock with their ground attack and Kacz threw an interception by linebacker Kevin Costello with 3:02 left in the game.

“The middle linebacker made a great play and he jumped up and tipped it,” said Kacz. “When the ball floats in the air like that, it’s always dangerous and it was bound to happen eventually. That was the second pass they tipped that drive.”

Kacz finished the game completing 13 of 30 passes for 143 yards with an interception and a rushing touchdown. Linebacker Pasquale Vacchio led the defense with 15 tackles, Littlejohn had a career-high 13 and Tyler Krempa had 12.

“We need to come out next week and score on our first drive because that sets the tone for the game, said Kacz. “If we go behind, offensively we feel like we’re battling back and that starts with us. We got the ball the first two times the last two games and we didn’t capitalize by scoring first. Our defense played a great game today only allowing 14 points. Offensively, 7 points isn’t going to get it done. We need a lot more points than that.”

The Bengals will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they play their third-consecutive home game against Utica this Saturday at 12:05 p.m.