BUFFALO, NY—Buffalo State (2-2/0-1) erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and took the lead late, but Vito Boffoli (Hopewell Jct./John Jay) caught a short crossing pattern over the middle and bounced off a Bengal defender to spring 30 yards for the game-winning score with just 22 seconds remaining to lift Ithaca (3-0/1-0) to a 24-20 victory in the Empire 8 season-opener today at Coyer Field.
Ithaca quarterback Phil Neumann (Burnt Hills/B.H.-Ballston Lake) was 16 of 24 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Boffoli finished with five catches for 68 yards. Brian Hardenberg (Verona, NJ/Verona) led the Bombers with 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
Buffalo State's Casey Kacz (Amherst/Sweet Home) finished the day 24 of 44 for 262 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Rich Pete (Utica/TR Proctor) had 143 total yards with 91 yards on 15 rushes and a touchdown and also had five catches for 52 yards. Mike Doherty (Tonawanda/Kenmore East) finished with six grabs for 79 yards, and Ryan Carney (Olean/Olean) had seven catches for 67 yards. Shaq Frederick (Brooklyn/Holy Cross) had a team-high nine tackles, and Brian Greene (Syracuse/Liverpool) registered two of the team's four sacks.
Buffalo State outgained Ithaca 362-261 for the game, including 245-121 in the second half, but big plays on special teams and the late drive by the Bombers proved to be the difference.
Ithaca opened the scoring on the final play of the first quarter when Neumann connected with Jared Prugar (York, ME/York) for a 63-yard touchdown down the left sideline. The Bombers extended their lead to 10-0 midway through the second quarter when Max Rottenecker (Bochum, Germany) booted a 41-yard field goal.
Buffalo State's offense finally came to life on its next possession, answering with a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive. After converting on a pair of long third downs, the Bengals capped the drive with a 3-yard strike from Kacz to Isaiah Clarke (Brooklyn/Grand Street) in the back corner of the end zone with just 26 seconds remaining in the half.
Neither offense threatened in the third quarter with each team's defense coming up with a takeaway. Freshman Jeff McDuffie (Syracuse/E. Syracuse-Minoa) snagged his first career interception for the Bengals, before Hardenberg recovered a Kacz fumble for the Bombers.
The Bombers pushed the lead to 17-10 with just under nine minutes remaining in the game on a 63-yard punt return for a score by Josh Oliver (Poughkeepsie/Poughkeepsie), sparking an explosive fourth quarter.
The Bengals assembled a seven-play, 72-yard drive, culminating with a 14-yard touchdown catch by Sherman Nelson (Buffalo/O'Hara) with 3:30 remaining to cut the deficit to 17-14. Then after a defensive stand, the Bengals marched down the field again, this time using seven plays to cover 62 yards in just 47 seconds. Pete's 18-yard run gave the Bengals their first lead of the game with just 1:05 remaining, but an errant extra point kick left the score 20-17.
Ithaca took over at its own 28-yard line, but quickly moved into Bengals' territory, and Boffoli's catch, broken tackle and run erased the Bengals' comeback.
Buffalo State will visit Alfred next Saturday for another conference game at 1 p.m.