Bengals Prepare to Join the Empire Eight

Bengals Prepare to Join the Empire Eight
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Casey Kacz will try to hold onto the starting quarterback job over Ryan Lehotsky as the Bengals switch from the NJAC to the Empire Eight.
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Josh Mims will be taking over the safety position with Kevin Healey leaving due to graduation.

The Buffalo State Football team will be joining the Empire Eight Conference this season in an effort to cut down on travel time after spending the past six seasons in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.

The Bengals will be joining a conference which features five New York teams in Alfed, Hartwick, Ithaca, St. John Fisher and Utica and two Maryland teams in Frostburg State and Salisbury.

Buffalo State will also be maintaining their rivalries with Cortland and Brockport as they’ll square against each team within the first two games of the season. The Bengals signed a two-year contract with the defending Division III National Champions Wisconsin-Whitewater and will face the nonconference opponent on the road in Week 3.

Heading into the 2012 season, the Bengals will bring the NJAC’s top offense and look to have similar success. The Bengals averaged 36.6 points per game offensively and boasted the top rushing offense, averaging 208.9 yards per game and 29 rushing touchdowns. They also had the third best passing offense, averaging 223.3 yards per game.

Casey Kacz appears to be the frontrunner for the starting quarterback job over last season’s opening day starter Ryan Lehotsky. Kacz lead the Bengals to a 4-2 record over the final six games of the season and Lehotsky began the season with a 1-3 record, helping break four Buffalo State records in their 82-17 victory over Western Connecticut State.

“He has motivation because he wants to start and its motivation for me because I know that I can have my spot taken from me at any time like he had his spot taken last year,” Kacz said. “I know the same thing could happen to me. If he plays better in camp and just outperforms me, I know they won’t hesitate to put him back in because he knows the offense just as well as I do and he’s a good competitor and a great quarterback. I know with him right there, I have to constantly be pushing myself.”

The Bengals also have an interesting competition at the running back position since Richard Pete showed he could handle the load when opening day starter Ismail Brooks became hampered by an injury. Pete rushed for 753 yards and nine touchdowns on 100 carries while Brooks rushed for 478 yards and 8 touchdowns on 100 carries.

“I think Ismail Brooks and Richard Pete made a lot of strides,” offensive coordinator Greg Forest said. “Those guys understand their roles a little bit better than last year. They understand that not only are they going to be in the backfield toting the rock, but they’re going to be out there catching passes as well which will put more pressure on the defense and make our offense more diversified.”

At the wide receiver position, Mike Doherty figures to start after leading the team with 46 receptions for 659 yards and four touchdowns. Caesarae Lewis finished second on the team with 31 receptions for 387 yards and three touchdowns and will look to compete for the other starting job with Justin Medley, David Jacobs, John Beers and Joe Ferraro. Zachary Best will start at tight end.

The offensive line will feature three returning starters in center Kyle Shreve, left guard Josh Jesonowski and right tackle Brendan Barthel. Adam Hurd, John Knudsen and Mike Feirabend will compete for the left tackle and right guard jobs.

Defensively, the Bengals will still operate in a 4-2-5 defensive scheme and will look to improve the NJAC’s third best run defense which allowed just 132.1 rushing yards per game.

“We just continue to get better,” linebacker Brandon Hodgins said. “Kids keep getting older. We got more kids coming in that can play ball. We’re looking to have a really solid defense this year.”

The defensive line has yet to be determined but Sean Littlejohn, Ben Denn, Steve Murphy, Jahi Owens, Craig Klemick, Will Doerr and Gorden Schubert all figure to be a part of the rotation.

At the linebacker position, last season’s leading tackler Pasquale Vacchio will have to battle Jordan Boser and Eddie Weiser for one of two inside linebacker jobs. Brandon Hodgins and Matt Wesolowski appear to be the favorites to occupy the Bengal and Tiger positions which are similar to a hybrid safety/linebacker role.

In the secondary, Josh Mims will switch from cornerback to safety as the team looks to improve the NJAC’s second worst pass defense after allowing 220.9 yards per game. Cortland-transfer Joe Manasani will look to battle Jeff Moore, Sean Mapp and Isaac Clark for the two starting cornerback positions.

“My expectations for the team this year are high,” Mims said. “Coming from last season with all of the close games we were in and just how we couldn’t finish at the end. We were in all of those games and we should’ve won them. We just had a couple of mental errors that broke us down, but I believe those errors and mental blocks are not going to prevent us from winning games this year.”

The Bengals will begin training camp August 10 with the regular season beginning at home against Cortland on September 1 at 12pm on Coyer Field.