September 19, 2012

Inside Buff State's final drive

More news about: Buffalo State
The last-minute heroics by the Buffalo State offense were made possible by the strong performance of the Buffalo State defense.
UW-Whitewater athletics photo

Casey Kacz had been here before -- down by six points, a minute and a half to go, one timeout.

Of course, it had been in practice, with considerably fewer eyes on him. And it had been in Buffalo, N.Y. -- just a few miles from his home in Amherst, N.Y. -- not Whitewater, Wis. And it had been against his own team's defense, not the stout unit of the three-time defending national champions.

But there was no time to focus on that. There were 75 yards sitting between Kacz and the pinnacle of his football career. A mere 75 yards separated Buffalo State from a program-defining moment and perhaps the greatest regular-season upset in Division III football history, certainly in recent memory.

"We practice this every week," Kacz told himself on the field. But even Kacz couldn't have imagined how this one would play out.

The drive started out well enough, as Kacz hit Sherman Nelson for a 14-yard pass. First down, Buffalo State. Just a few more of those and the Bengals would be within striking distance of the end zone. But then came two incompletions, a false start and a sack, in that order.

The Bengals faced fourth-and-19 on their own 30-yard line. This was it. Nice try, Buffalo State, but teams just don't come to Whitewater and leave with wins. You sure gave it a hell of a shot, but like all the others, you'll come up short.

A funny thing happened though -- Buffalo State's players weren't ready to accept that. Coach Jerry Boyes, now in his fourth year of his second stint with the Bengals, dug deep into his bag of tricks and pulled out a dandy -- a hook and ladder/option play.

Here's the basic setup -- a receiver on the right runs an 8-yard hook while the slot receiver on the left runs a 5-yard dig. While this is happening, the running back floats out to the right flat and up the field. So, in theory, the quarterback throws to the receiver on the hook, who then immediately pitches it to the slot receiver crossing the middle. The slot receiver either runs for the first down, or again pitches it to the running back, who should be running adjacent to him.

It sounds good in theory, but what are the chances it would work against UW-Whitewater?

Kacz took the snap out of the shotgun and connected with receiver Ryan Carney over the middle, who then tossed it to Richard Pete, the crossing slot receiver, at the 35-yard line. Pete gained about 5 yards before flipping the ball to running back Brooks Estarfaa, who wasn't pushed out of bounds until he was inside the Warhawks' 40-yard line.

Now things were getting interesting.

"The last drive we kind of abandoned the game plan a little bit and just went with what we thought would work, and it worked out good," Kacz said. "Once we got that first down, I had a feeling we were going to score just because everyone on the field got a little more positive."

A personal foul penalty pushed the Bengals back to their own 49-yard line, but three plays later, Kacz found Manny Brooks on a perfectly executed 33-yard screen that set Buffalo State up at UW-Whitewater's 10-yard line with 15 seconds left. Brooks took a short pass and carved a risky path through the Warhawk defense, cutting all the way across the field from right to left before going out of bounds.

After two incompletions, the call came from the sideline to Kacz -- "312." The play called for Carney to run a slant across the middle. Kacz, concerned that time would run out if Carney was tackled before reaching the end zone, improvised. He told Carney to run a slant-and-go to the left front pylon.

"The players out on the field are the ones that have a great feeling for things," said Boyes, a former All-America quarterback at Ithaca. "It was a little bit of an improvisation on our part and Casey's part, but we really have no problems doing that. ... You want players playing, you don't want robots out on the field."

Kacz made the right call. He hit Carney on the back shoulder, out of the reach of the Whitewater defender. Carney made the catch and got both feet in while falling backwards. Touchdown, Buffalo State.

Elation ensued. Chaos, really. But one important play still remained -- the extra point. Buffalo State kicker Nate Benoit had missed both of his field goal attempts earlier in the game, but he calmly drilled the extra point, which put the Bengals up by one with three seconds left. Chris Hall tallied his second interception of Lee Brekke on a last-gasp desperation pass to end the game.

Kacz and Carney will likely go down as the heroes of this game, the two players linked forever in a stunning last-second touchdown. But Buffalo State's defense held the powerful Whitewater offense to just two field goals. That, in and of itself, is staggering.

The last time Whitewater scored in single digits was a 7-3 win against Mary Hardin-Baylor on Oct. 28, 2006. The last time the Warhawks were held to six points or less was a 7-6 loss to UW-Platteville on Oct. 2, 2004. And both of those were road games.

"Our defense did bend, but they didn't get in our end zone and that was just crucial, particularly their last drive," Boyes said. "They continually gave us the opportunity to win a ballgame. The biggest thing was the speed that our defense played [at], it was at a tempo that I really hadn't seen yet this year. The pursuit probably was the key to the game."

Senior linebacker Pasquale Vacchio played like a man possessed. He finished with a game-high 19 tackles -- no other player in the game had more than nine. But the individual stats didn't concern Boyes much. He prefers to keep it simpler.

"I'm concerned about two statistics -- one is turnovers and the other is final score," Boyes said.

That said, Buffalo State held Whitewater to just 4.8 yards per play and out-gained the Warhawks 356-311 in total offensive yards. The Bengals, though slowed by three turnovers, had no trouble moving the ball between the 20s against the Whitewater defense.

"We decided before the game [that] we were going to run the ball outside and try to make their D-linemen get tired," Kacz said. "And we wanted to throw the ball outside and make their D-linemen and linebackers chase and wear them out."

It's a simple enough game plan, but to execute it the way Buffalo State did is nothing short of stunning. Quite simply, the Bengals accomplished something many thought to be impossible.

That made the 12-and-a-half-hour bus ride back to Buffalo a bit more bearable. Boyes even took part in a team tradition called "Bengal Idol," where any players on the bus for the first time sing a song by themselves. Boyes wouldn't disclose his song of choice, but he's happy to see Buffalo State's campus -- and truthfully, the nation -- singing a different tune this week.

"It certainly has caused a great stir on campus, which is great," Boyes said. "You love to see that because that's the type of atmosphere that you want. That's the kind of atmosphere I saw out there in Wisconsin."

Ithaca rallies, stuns Union in OT

Even the greatest rallies tend to feature a bit of luck. But you won't get any complaints from Ithaca.

After enduring a season in which seemingly every bounce went against them, the Bombers earned a win Saturday that last season would have never happened. In fact, statistically speaking, Ithaca's 27-24 overtime over Union is Ithaca's greatest comeback.

Nine previous times, Ithaca has rallied from a 14-point deficit to win, but never has it done so with just three minutes remaining in regulation. After Union marched 99 yards in 18 plays to take a 21-7 lead, Ithaca quarterback Phil Neumann quickly marched the Bombers down the field, connecting with Michael Moon on a 6-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14. It was then up to Ithaca's defense to force a three-and-out.

The Bombers held -- T.J. Franzese managed nine yards on three carries, but on fourth-and-1, the Dutchmen opted to punt. Here's where the good luck showed up for Ithaca. The snap went well over punter Dan Estien, who covered the loose ball at the Union 4-yard line. On the next play, Neumann tossed a touchdown to Steve DelMoro. Just like that, the game was tied.

In overtime, Union drove the ball down to the three-yard line, but a sack by Brian Hardenberg forced the Dutchmen to kick a 30-yard field goal. But Ithaca, aided by a 10-yard pass interference penalty, found the end zone for the win when Neumann connected with Joe Ingrao from 4 yards out. Neumann finished with 190 yards and the three touchdowns in what was a strong performance for the junior.

Hardenberg was one of seven Ithaca defensive players to notch at least half a sack in the game. Through two games this season, the Bombers have tallied 10 sacks. They only had 11 all of last season.

On the flip side, this stands as another tough loss for Union (0-3) to swallow. The Dutchmen dropped their season opener to Salve Regina by three points as well. The positive here, of course, is that all three games were non-conference matchups. So Union still has time to contend in the Liberty League.

St. John Fisher (3-0) also had to rally back this past weekend. The Cardinals erased Rochester's 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter to post a 20-16 win, their eighth straight Courage Bowl victory.

Mike Benderski blocked a Rochester field goal attempt -- his second of the game -- in the fourth quarter, and Wade Kline rumbled 72 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Rochester then blocked the ensuing extra point and linebacker Brendan Pidgeon returned that for two points. That crazy special teams sequence ultimately decided a game largely defined by defensive play. Fisher quarterback Ryan Kramer had 145 passing yards and 41 rushing yards, but was largely held in check.

Rochester (1-1) travels to Springfield for its Liberty League opener this Saturday.

NJAC contenders flex their muscles

It's only Week 3. I keep reminding myself that. But boy, some of the NJAC scores from this past weekend are hard to ignore.

Brockport State, a surprising 3-0 team, routed TCNJ 41-17. Cortland State, the preseason favorite in the conference, dismantled Western Connecticut 72-14. And Rowan, perhaps overlooked but still dangerous, walloped William Paterson 51-0. So, what do we make of this?

Well, in the case of Cortland and Rowan, perhaps not too much. Both teams were expected to compete for the NJAC conference title. Little was expected of Western Connecticut, a rebuilding team in its first year under coach Joe Loth, or William Paterson, a young team coming off its second straight 4-6 season.

In reality, Cortland and Rowan are right where they should be, and right where most expected them to be. Rowan quarterback Louie Bianchini tossed four touchdowns, including three to Ed Eisenhart, in a superb showing for the Profs' offense. But Rowan was probably most impressive on defense. The Profs held the Pioneers to just 95 yards of total offense.

Cortland, which had an extra bye week to work on areas of concern following a 49-31 season-opening loss to Buffalo State, rode Dorian Myles (161 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and Justin Autera (52 yards, one touchdown) in its convincing win.

After three weeks of play, Brockport remains one of the most surprising teams in the country. In fact, it's difficult to point to a signature victory -- so far, they are all impressive. After beating Lycoming in the opener and Buffalo State in Week 2, the Golden Eagles hammered NJAC rival TCNJ. Quarterback Joe Scibilia threw for 366 yards and five touchdowns. An active Brockport defense forced four interceptions and generally made things difficult for TCNJ's offense.

Teams like Kean (0-2, 0-0) and Montclair State (1-2, 1-0) have plenty of time to push back into contention. But for the time being, the NJAC appears to be shaping up as a three-team race. Better check back next week though.

Hobart makes a statement

Hobart is hardly flying under the radar. The Statesmen won the Liberty League last season and gave Wesley quite a test in the NCAA playoffs. This season, more of the same was expected.

Hobart cruised through the first two weeks with wins against Dickinson and Geneva. But its first test came this past Saturday night at Utica. The Pioneers, while far from a proven contender, are a team on the rise, and one that generally plays well at home. But Hobart bullied its way to a 45-26 win and, in the process, sent a message that the Statesmen are back -- and probably better.

Here's the key statistic from the win against Utica -- Hobart rushed for 218 yards while surrendering just 13. The Statesmen's defense punished Utica quarterback Andrew Benkwitt, sacking the senior 10 times. Standout defensive end Tyre Coleman collected 4.5 of those sacks, establishing a new team record. Quarterback Nick Strang (284 yards, two touchdowns) was solid, but if the Statesmen are able to impose their will on both the offensive and defensive line like they did against Utica, they will only need steady play from Strang.

Lycoming's forecast: 100 percent chance of Showers

OK, it's a cheesy headline. Guilty as charged. But seriously, have you heard about Lycoming's Parker Showers? No? Well, let me introduce you.

He's one half of the Warriors' dynamic running back tandem along with Craig Needhammer. But he's also officially the top kickoff returner in team history. With kickoff returns of 33 and 19 yards in Lycoming's 21-13 win over Lebanon Valley this past weekend, Showers passed Ricky Lanetti in all-time kickoff return yardage. He finished the game with 990 yards, and will likely eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this Saturday against Albright.

Showers also rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown against Lebanon Valley.

Top 25: Brockport State, Buffalo State join the ranks

Brockport State (No. 17) and Buffalo State (No. 19) cracked the top 20 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll after impressive wins. Brockport dominated TCNJ to improve to 3-0, while Buffalo State earned a well-documented win over three-time defending champion UW-Whitewater.

Salisbury slipped from No. 7 to No. 8, while St. John Fisher went from No. 9 to No. 10. Hobart (No. 13) jumped up one spot, as did Widener (No. 21).

Rowan and Albright also received votes this week.

Quick hits

John Dunbar rushed for 76 yards and three touchdowns after relieving starting quarterback Dan Griffin in Salisbury's 69-6 rout of North Carolina Wesleyan. Jerome Stanley added 94 rushing yards and a score for the Sea Gulls. ... Chris Haupt tossed five touchdown passes -- three to dynamic wide receiver Anthony Davis -- in Widener's 67-0 win over Misericordia. ... Mike Hermann threw for 331 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 66 yards and another two scores as RPI pounded Castleton State 56-35. Three of Hermann's TD throws went to Nick Weber as the Engineers improved to 2-0. ... A.J. Scoppa rushed for 169 yards and the game's only score in Montclair State's 7-0 win against Morrisville State. Matt Mancino had a pair of interceptions for the Red Hawks in the shutout. ... Austin Dwyer tallied 111 rushing yards and two TDs as Alfred notched a 28-7 win against St. Lawrence. ... Mike Davis rushed for 184 yards and four touchdowns as Springfield held off Mount Ida 49-42 in a high-scoring matchup. Davis' two fourth-quarter TD runs helped Springfield rally. ... Aaron Wilmer threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns as Delaware Valley knocked off Stevenson 34-10 for its first win of the season. K.K. Smith rushed for 170 yards in the loss for Stevenson. ... Ken Emmons connected with Chuky Iweh on a 6-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to help Frostburg State nab a 17-16 win against Case Western Reserve. ... Kurtis Ahart rushed for a career-high 233 yards and two touchdowns in Hartwick's 53-41 win against Becker. ... Scott Pillar caught 14 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in Albright's 27-13 win against Wilkes. ... FDU-Florham topped King's 30-14 for its first win of the season. Mike Santos threw for 257 yards and a pair of scores in the victory. ... Luke Stidham (134 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and John-Leon Gosselin (85 yards) fueled a potent ground attack in Merchant Marine's 19-14 win against SUNY-Maritime.

Looking ahead

Two key NJAC teams will meet when Kean (0-2, 0-0) hosts Brockport State (3-0, 1-0) at noon Saturday. Kean, which is still looking for its first win, will have its hands full with an upstart Brockport squad. The Golden Eagles already have impressive wins at Lycoming and home against Buffalo State on their resume.

First place in the MAC will be at stake when Albright (3-0, 2-0) hosts Lycoming (2-1, 2-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Both teams are undefeated so far in conference play and figure to match up well in this contest. Lycoming tallied a 35-13 win last season, but an improved Albright team is already halfway to its win total from 2011.

Buffalo State (2-1, 0-0) will try to avoid post-UW-Whitewater letdown in its Empire 8 opener against Alfred (1-1, 0-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Alfred is coming off its first win of the season, while Buffalo State is coming off the biggest win in program history.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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