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Buffalo State (6-4, 4-3) held the No. 25-ranked St. John Fisher (6-3, 3-3) to just 227 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers to secure a 17-9 victory, wrapping up the regular season with a four-game winning streak.
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Running back RIch Pete had 31 carries for 165 yards including the 43-yard run that sealed the victory for Buffalo State.
In 2000, the Buffalo State football team finished with a 7-4 record as ECAC Northwest Champions, but the program failed to produce another winning season until now.
The Bengals (6-4, 4-3) held the No. 25-ranked St. John Fisher (6-3, 3-3) to just 227 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers to secure a 17-9 victory, wrapping up the regular season with a four-game winning streak. They also finished with a four-game road-winning streak.
“Our defense played what may have been their best game of the season, but they have been playing up to their capabilities basically,” head coach Jerry Boyes said. “They kind of refused to lose today. I’m just so proud of them and their toughness that they showed. The tenacity that our defense showed was really fun to watch.”
Down 17-9 with less than four minutes remaining, St. John Fisher had a chance to tie the game with a first down at the Buffalo State 13-yard line, but the Bengals defense forced a fourth-and-12 that ended with an interception by safety Mike Burton in the end zone.
“I just figured that they were going to go to one of their main receivers and I just had to go up and make a play,” Burton said. “All week we were talking about doing it for the seniors and I came out here to win for the seniors.”
After the interception, the Bengals took over at their 20-yard line with 1:55 left in the game and St. John Fisher with three timeouts. Two plays later, Buffalo State found itself with a third-and-two with 1:44 left, needing to get a first down and running back Rich Pete broke free for a 43-yard gain and all they had to do was kneel down to win.
“They flew out and my guys just kicked them out and I cut it up,” Pete said. “I saw green and I just had to go. All the emotions went through my head, but at that point in time, it was just about sealing the game. I should’ve scored, but I was thinking ‘Yes! We got the first down! We’re 6-4! We’ll hopefully get a bowl game!’”
Both teams struggled offensively at beginning of the game. Cardinals’ quarterback Ryan Kramer fumbled on their opening possession and Bengals’ quarterback Ryan Lehotsky threw an interception on their first drive.
St. John Fisher got on the scoreboard first though with an eight-play 42-yard drive, capped off by a four-yard touchdown run by running back Alex Stacy. Kicker Brendan Carey’s extra point attempt sailed wide left and the game remained 6-0.
Following Lehotsky’s second interception of the game, the Cardinals capitalized with a 36-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Sweet to make the score 9-0.
The Bengals made a quarterback change from Lehotsky to Casey Kacz on the next possession and he responded with a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Caesarae Lewis. It ended an 11-play, 72-yard drive and cut the deficit to 9-7.
“They had me going in motion and I did an out route and Casey put the ball where it needed to be,” said Lewis. “We know when Casey comes in, he’s going to pick it back up where we needed to be and he came in and got the job done.”
“It’s unfortunate that we struggled at first, but I don’t think it was a lot of [Lehotsky’s] fault,” Kacz said. “It sucks he threw those picks, but when I got in, I got some confidence right away after completing the first couple of passes and getting that touchdown pass. I think once I was confident, the guys became a little more confident.”
Coming out of halftime, the Bengals’ offense built off of the momentum with another score to take their first lead of the game, 14-9. Kacz threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Beers, ending an eight-play, 63-yard drive.
“Casey scrambled and broke a few tackles,” Beers said. “I just found a hole, sat there, caught it and made a play. I just had to get in the end zone. I’m a senior and it’s my last game. I have to make it important.”
Buffalo State extended their lead to 17-9 early in the fourth quarter with a 34-yard field goal by kicker Nate Benoit after linebacker Jordan Boser forced a Cody Miller fumble. The ball bounced around, but eventually linebacker/safety Scott Koen came up with the recovery, his second of the game.
“It was a run and the corner came up,” Koen said. “Chris Hall stuck him and the ball came loose. The ball was just being tapped around. Mike Burton got possession of it, but got laid out by someone else and the ball just went on the ground again and I just dove on it. I got them stickies.”
Each team had their opportunities to score in the fourth quarter, but they failed on their fourth down conversion attempts. Kacz threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-1 at the St. John Fisher 33-yard line with 10:49 left and Kramer threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-5 at the Buffalo State 25-yard line with 8:11 on the clock.
St. John Fisher had their best chance to score on their next possession, but Burton’s interception ended their drive as Buffalo State ran out the remaining time left on the clock.
Pete was the workhorse for the Bengals’ offense, carrying the ball 31 times for 165 yards. Lehotsky completed 2 of 5 passes for 20 yards with two interceptions before Kacz replaced him to complete 9 of 18 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Buffalo State’s regular season is over, but they’ll be waiting until after next week’s games for an announcement to find out if they’ll get an ECAC Bowl Bid. Salisbury clinched the NCAA Tournament bid by winning the Empire 8 Conference, but the Bengals, who are currently in fourth place in the conference, could end up tied for second.
Utica (6-3, 4-2) will host St. John Fisher (6-3, 3-3) at 1 p.m. and Alfred (5-3, 4-2) will travel to Hartwick (3-6, 0-6) for a 1 p.m. kickoff. If Hartwick and St. John Fisher manage to win, Buffalo State would be tied with Utica, Alfred, St. John Fisher and Ithaca for second place in the conference. The Bengals are helped out by their non-conference schedule though, as their opponents have a combined 18-8 record and a .692 winning percentage.
“My unwritten goal this year was to make the playoffs and whether that was a NCAA or an ECAC, that would’ve shown the real growth of where we are,” Boyes said. “These guys know that we’ve turned the corner and they know we’re a good football team, but the outside public only looks at one factor and that’s the win-loss record. If we are able to add playoffs to it, that would be a real feather in our cap.”