Strong ‘D’ leads football to victory in season opener

In many ways, it was what head coach Jerry Boyes expected heading into Saturday’s 20-19 win over Bridgewater State.
The Bengals relied on their defense, as the offense showed there’s still work to be done.

Overall, Boyes was pleased with the result.

“We came out on top,” Boyes said. “Our defense kept us in the ball game because our offense wasn’t running on all cylinders. We were close but not there yet, but we persevered and we never panicked.”

The Bengals opened the game by handing the ball to senior Dale Stewart. Stewart ran the ball on the offense’s first six plays, as he picked up 34 yards. On play seven, Hoppy threw his first pass of the season and it went for six points. Hoppy’s throw found Stephen Johnson, who made the 35-yard grab along the right sideline for the first score of the game.

Coming into the season there wasn’t a clear-cut No. 1 receiver for Buffalo State. On Saturday, no receiver rose up above the others. Hoppy, who went 16 for 26 for 174 yards, spread the ball around.

According to Johnson, the plan was to have a wide receiver by committee approach this year.

“Today was a perfect example of it,” Johnson said. “Nobody outshined the rest of us. After I scored the touchdown, Bridgewater State played Cover 2 over me the rest of the time so other guys stepped up and made plays.”

On the ensuing drive, Bears quarterback Jonathan Marrero found Jack Lavanchy, who made a diving 31-yard catch getting Bridgewater State to the Bengals’ 28-yard line. A few plays later, Stefano D’Emilia connected with Alex McLaughlin for 25 yards to make it first and goal. The Bears punched it in when Lavanchy fought off the Bengal defender and caught a pass in the end zone.

When the Bengals got the ball back, Stewart took control of the game. The senior back accounted for 44 of the 57 yards on the drive that he ended with a three-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals the 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Stewart is now the feature tailback for the Bengals, after Tre Mason graduated. So far he has stepped up and played strong. The Niagara Falls native had 63 yards rushing and caught two passes for 28 yards in the win.

Boyes is counting on Stewart to not only be a workhorse but also a play maker for Buff State.
“Dale is one of our big play people. We want three big plays a game,” Boyes said. “I really feel on any given hand off he can score.”

Bridgewater State ended the first half with a long winded 16 play, 79 yard, 5:19 drive that ended in a touchdown. Buffalo State stopped the Bears on their first three attempts inside the 10-yard line, but Marrero pushed behind his offensive line for two yards on fourth and goal to score. Bridgewater had a block in the back penalty on the PAT and then missed the retry, to make the score 14-13 Bengals at the half.

After scoring on back-to-back drives to end the first half, the Buffalo State offense began to stall in the second half. The team moved the ball only 32 yards in the entire third quarter.

“We started out well and had things going. Then we had a lull in the second and third quarter. We didn’t come alive until we needed,” Boyes said. “They made an adjustment on defense that shouldn’t have affected us but it did. That’s a concern.”

D’Emilia found Brandon Giles for a 23-yard passing touchdown to give Bridgewater the lead. The Bears went for a two-point conversion to make up for the missed PAT but failed and only led 19-14 to start the fourth quarter.

The Bengals scored the game-winning touchdown on a Hoppy 34-yard pass Ricky Bailey with seven minutes left. Darren Thompson put the nail in the coffin for Buff State as the sophomore leaped in air and came up with an interception.

Ultimately, Johnson and the offense know that it cannot rely on the defense to carry them all the time going forward.

“We have to be more consistent,” Johnson said. “We came out on fire to start. We have to bring that energy every play, every drive.”