Football falls to Fisher in season opener; 23-6

Francis Boeck, Executive Editor

The SUNY Buffalo State Football team had rookies at two of the most important positions on the field.

Unfortunately, for the Bengals, the lack of experience showed.

Both interim coach Christian Ozolins and quarterback Zak Ciezki struggled in their new roles Saturday as the Bengals fell to the St. John Fisher College Cardinals, 23-6, in their season opener on Saturday afternoon at Coyer Field.

“I need to improve from a coaching standpoint,” said Ozolins, who led the team for the first time as head coach. “I made some mistakes, but our kids played hard. I told the kids I didn’t question one bit about their give a crap level. We have to improve; we didn’t tackle well. Our quarterback got scared feet early. But, I love our kids and what they’re going to be about.”

Jenna Maul/The Record

Ciezki was playing his first organized football game in four years, after playing basketball at Buffalo State the past three seasons. The senior, who was one of eight Bengals making their first start, went 15-for-29 for 183 yards and a touchdown and threw three interceptions.

“A year ago the kid was playing hoops,” Ozolins said of Ciezki. “He’ll improve and the game will slow down for him as we get going. I just hope it slows down a little bit quicker.”

After his first collegiate pass went for 25 yards, Ciezki’s second resulted in a pick.

The Cardinals made the most of the takeaway going down the field for the game’s first score. Tailback Dahmir Pross got the drive going taking a handoff 22 yards to the Bengals’ 33-yard line. Hunter Walsh then found Pat Galer for nine yards before a Buffalo State pass interference set up Fisher inside the four. Pross found the endzone on the next play giving his team the 7-0 lead with 7:22 left in the first.

Fisher added to their lead after.

The Cardinals got the ball at the Bengals’ 28-yard line after partially blocking a punt on the opening play of the second quarter. Pross had 12 yards on two carries before Joe Dotterweich nailed a 33-yard kick just a minute and a half into the quarter.

Buffalo State found a rhythm in the final drive of the half. Martin Bailey started it off with a trio of solid runs, before Jordan Evert took a bubble screen 19 yards that put the Bengals near midfield. A few plays later, Buffalo State got into the redzone thanks to a 17-yard run by Praise Prawl. However, the drive came to an end when Ciezki tried to fit a pass into a tight window and was intercepted by Jason Rodriguez with nine seconds left.

Things didn’t improve for Bengals in the second half. They had to use a timeout on their first play from the line of scrimmage before going three and out.

Jenna Maul/The Record

The Cardinals scored on their opening drive of the half. Back-to-back runs by Dahmir Pross (18 yards) and Ryan Ingerson (16 yards) set up a 28-yard field goal by Dotterweich that gave Fisher the 13-0 lead midway through the third.

Will Blake made a leaping 46-yard catch setting up the Cardinals at the Bengals’ 12-yard line. A few plays later, Pross got his second touchdown of the day taking it in from two yards out.

Pross proved to be difficult to stop for the Bengals’ defense, that gave up an average of 209.7 rushing yards per game last season. The sophomore ran for 115 yards on 23 carries.

“We were where we needed to be,” said Ozolins. “I think (Defensive Coordinator Terry Bitka) put our guys in the right position, we just didn’t make the plays we needed to.”

Buffalo State’s lone score of the day came on the ensuing drive. Ciezki hit Evert in the seam for a 45-yard touchdown cutting the deficit to 20-6 with 1:54 left in the third quarter.

Dotterweich, a native of North Tonawanda, NY, made three of four field goal attempts, including his last which was from 41 yards out.

Buffalo State will go on the road next week to face the Utica Pioneers for a non-conference game. Kickoff is at noon on Saturday.