Bengals Get Their First Empire 8 Conference Win

Bengals Get Their First Empire 8 Conference Win
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The Bengals bounced back after allowing a season-high 51 points to Utica by forcing three turnovers and holding Ithaca to just 253 yards of total offense in a 21-14 victory, giving Buffalo State their first-ever win in the Empire 8.
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Backup quarterback Ryan Lehotsky complete a 42-yard touchdown pass to Zachary Best and converted a fake extra point into a two-point conversion
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Kam Johnson made the play of the game with an interception at the Buffalo State six yard line, preventing Ithaca from scoring inside the red zone.

After losing three straight games at home against Empire 8 Conference opponents, the Buffalo State football team went on the road and picked up where they left off against UW-Whitewater.

The Bengals bounced back after allowing a season-high 51 points to Utica by forcing three turnovers and holding Ithaca to just 253 yards of total offense in a 21-14 victory, giving Buffalo State their first-ever win in the Empire 8.

“We played well at times in all three phases today, but the defense was the big difference,” head coach Jerry Boyes said. “We gave them a number of opportunities with a short field in the second half, but the defense rose to the occasion and secured the win for us.”

Buffalo State got on the board first after quarterback Casey Kacz led a 14-play 91-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Ismail Brooks to take an early 8-0 lead. The Bengals faked the extra point with holder Ryan Lehotsky throwing a pass to linebacker Eddie Weiser to complete the two-point conversion.

Two plays later, the Bengals’ offense found themselves going back on the field, following a fumble by Ithaca running back Clay Ardoin, which was recovered by defensive tackle Tawone Williams. This time, however, the Ithaca defense held them to 27-yard field goal by kicker Nate Benoit as Buffalo State pushed their lead to 11-0.

Ithaca answered with a nine-play, 67-yard drive, resulting in an Ardoin two-yard touchdown run to close the deficit to 11-7.The Bengals drove deep into Ithaca territory again on their next drive, but Benoit missed a 21-yard field goal.

On Ithaca’s next possession, quarterback Phil Neumann threw an interception to safety Mike Burton, who returned it 56 yards. Benoit redeemed himself by hitting a 32-yard field goal to give Buffalo State a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.

“I thought there was wind at the beginning of the game and I tried to play it by angles too much,” Benoit said. “It didn’t work out for me on the one that I missed, but I figured there would be another field goal and I’d better be ready. I just didn’t want to be 50-percent for the day.”

Coming out of the half, wide receiver Caesarae Lewis fumbled the opening kickoff, but the Bengals prevented a score as defensive end Brian Greene sacked Neumann on a fouth-and-three play at the Buffalo State 23 yard line.

“They double-teamed me and I just fought through the double team to make the sack,” Greene said. “I was being a Tasmanian devil and just had to keep going and keep working to fight through the blocks.”

Kacz turned the ball back over with an interception on the very next play, but the defense forced a three-and-out. Lehotsky came in off the bench to replace Kacz and led a six-play 72-yard drive that ended with a 42-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zachary Best, extending the Bengals lead to 21-7 midway through the third quarter.

“Coming into the game, you just always have to be ready because you never know what could happen in one play,” Lehotsky said. “The play we just set up nicely. It was a play action and they didn’t cover him. He was wide open.”

“We were just running the ball on them and they were flying up, so we decided to go over the top, “Best said. “I saw the ball and it just seemed to be floating in the air forever. Lehotsky has been a great quarterback here for a number of years, so I had all the faith in him in the world.”

Ithaca tried to respond on the next drive, but Kam Johnson intercepted Neumann at the Buffalo State 6-yard line, killing their momentum for the rest of the third quarter.

“I read the tight end and I went downhill,” Johnson said. “I tried to get back into coverage, but I slipped and fell and the ball landed in my lap, so I just squeezed the ball tight. It was big for the team.”

On the Bengals next possession, Lehotsky threw an interception to cornerback Brian Garvey, who returned it 31 yards. The Bombers took advantage of the turnover as Neumann finished the five-play 37-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Delmore to make the score 21-14 with 10:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ithaca had two more chances to try to tie the game, but the Bengals defense prevented a score and Buffalo State ran out the remaining 2:05 left on the clock to win the game.

Lehotsky ended the game completing 5 of 10 passes for 70 yards with a touchdown and interception after replacing the injured Kacz, who completed 10 of 19 passes for 134 yards and an interception. The Bengals had a balanced ground attack with 161 rushing yards.

“We took [Kacz] out because he was still hurt a little bit and because he made a bad decision,” offensive coordinator Greg Forest said. “I think Lehotsky did the job that he should’ve done just like he was the starter. He went in and made some plays and we were able to win the game.”

Buffalo State will try to get back to .500 and try to make a push at an ECAC-bid this Saturday when it travels to Maryland to face Frostburg State during their homecoming weekend at 1 p.m. The Bobcats are coming off of a 41-0 loss to Utica where they had just 168 yards of total offense.

“With the losses we have, it would be very difficult for us to get an NCAA-bid, but what looms out there is the ECAC-bid because that is a possibility for us, depending upon how we can finish out the season,” Boyes said. “It comes down to the same thing every Saturday and what we have to do. If we do it the way we’re capable of, only good things can happen.”