Late-game swing sinks Salisbury, 32-28

AJ Speier/BSC-TV

Quarterback Kyle Hoppys two-point conversation run late in the fourth quarter gave Buffalo State a 32-28 lead.

Dave DeLuca/The Record

Quarterback Kyle Hoppy’s two-point conversation run late in the fourth quarter gave Buffalo State a 32-28 lead.

Dan Almasi, Associate Sports Editor

Buffalo State has played their best football in the second half of games this season, outscoring opponents 83-47 collectively in the latter 30 minutes of play in their three wins.

That trend continued this past Saturday at Coyer Field as the Bengals pulled out a 32-28 win over visiting Salisbury (1-3) after trailing by 11 late in the third quarter.

The Bengals’ offense started out slowly, but found a way to get going and the Bengals’ defense finally stifled Salisbury’s triple-option attack to secure the comeback win and improve to 3-1, 1-1 in the Empire 8.

The Bengals trailed 28-17 with about eight minutes left to play before two touchdown runs by senior running back Rich Pete and a two-point conversion run by quarterback Kyle Hoppy gave them the lead with just over three minutes left to play. The late lead was the Bengals’ first since leading 3-0 in the opening minutes. The defense then held off the run-heavy Salisbury attack for the remainder of the contest to give the Bengals the 4-point win.

Rich Pete found the end zone four times, carrying for 140 yards and averaging 6.1 yards-per-carry, despite being unable to break free for any huge gains, with a 20-yard run being his longest of the game. Pete has carried for over 100 yards in each of the Bengals four contests this season.

“We could give Rich the ball every single play and he wouldn’t get tired,” said sophomore quarterback Kyle Hoppy. “That’s just the kind of player he is. He’s always electrifying. You think he’s going to get tackled then, all of a sudden, he’s three yards the other way. We’ll just keep riding Rich and throw it when [the coaches] tell us to.”

Hoppy completed 18 of 30 pass attempts for 253 yards, and threw one interception. Senior wide receiver Mike Doherty led the Bengals in receiving yards for the fourth straight game, but was held in check for the most part, making just four catches for 80 yards.

Salisbury managed to cover the deep ball well, allowing only two passes of 30 or more yards. Hoppy settled for short passes, allowing his receivers to make plays after the catch.

“We’re not passing to get a [touchdown],” Hoppy said. “You get a pass five yards down the field, you get the guy the ball and let him get the yards after the catch. That’s what we did all day today; we found the open guy that they leave in the holes in their zones.”

Junior linebacker Shaq Fredrick led the Bengal defense with 15 tackles. Junior defensive back Marquis Artis tallied 12 tackles and had a forced fumble, while senior defensive back Sherman Nelson made his presence felt in the defensive backfield, posting two interceptions.

Head coach Jerry Boyes discussed the unique challenge involved in facing a non-traditional offense.

“One of the things about a triple-option is that very few teams run it,” Boyes said. “So for your defense to get ready for it in the course of a week, it is challenging. Our scout team, as well as they can do it, can never have the speed that the opponents have, so it’s difficult. A lot of times you’ve got to hang in there in the first half until you get adjusted to what they’re doing, and I think we did that.”

The Bengals shifted their defensive mindset going into the second half based on some unfamiliar looks, and it proved to be the right decision as they allowed just seven points in the final 30 minutes.

“A key factor was that we changed our scheme,” said junior defensive back Mitch Thomas. “The coaches had a big part in that. We were in a scheme to stop the run. In the six years we’ve been [watching] film on them, we’ve never seen four verticals. We went into the locker room and they told us ‘that’s not working’. [We] switched our game plan up.”

Pete felt that everyone did their part and that the team came together to pull out a win.

“Kyle Hoppy did a good job of keeping our offense composed,” Pete said. “Our defense kept us in the game and gave us chances.”

Salisbury quarterback John Dunbar completed just 4 of 14 pass attempts, throwing for 101 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back J.D. Hook led the Seagulls with 24 carries for 140 yards.

The Bengals opened the game with a big special teams play, as Marquis Artis forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that was recovered by Nick Bacon. The recovery gave the Bengals the ball on the Salisbury 25 yard line, and led to a 37-yard Marc Montana field goal to open the scoring.

On the opening play of the following drive, Jerome Johnson would break through the Bengals defense on a 60-yard run that set up Salisbury with a first-and-goal from the one yard line. Three plays later and Salisbury was on the board with a 3-yard Dunbar to Aarron Moore touchdown pass on a short slant route. Salisbury led 7-3 with 11:15 to play in the first quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Salisbury managed to drive down the field on a lengthy 15-play, 85-yard drive in which they didn’t complete a single pass. The Seagulls capped off the drive with an 8-yard Aarron Moore touchdown run while running seven minutes and 17 seconds off the clock.

After the teams exchanged punts, Hoppy managed to get the Bengal offense going with a 43-yard pass to wide receiver Ryan Carney who made the play with a defender on his back. The play was the Bengals biggest offensive gain of the day and would set up a 9-yard Pete touchdown run, cutting the Salisbury lead to 14-10.

On the second play of the following drive, Dunbar found a wide-open Ryan Kolb who made a one-handed catch in the open field and took it 72 yards for the score to give Salisbury a 21-10 lead with 6:24 left in the first half.

The Bengals drove down the field on the next series, only to lose the ball on a catch and fumble at Salisbury’s 17 yard line. The Seagulls would enter the second half with a 21-10 lead.

Buffalo State would cap off a 6-play, 70 yard drive to open the second half with a 1-yard Rich Pete touchdown run. Doherty was key for the Bengals on the drive, forcing a 15-yard pass interference penalty and hauling in a 22-yard catch, setting up the Bengals with a first-and-goal on the 1. The Bengals trailed 21-17 with 12:15 left in the third quarter.

The teams exchanged turnovers as defensive end Dez Howard forced a fumble on the next drive that was recovered by junior defensive back Mitch Thomas, but eight plays later Pete would give the ball right back to Salisbury after coughing it up on the 5-yard line.

“After that fumble, I saw it in Rich’s eyes, he had some fire in them,” said Mitch Thomas. “I knew he wanted to get it back and help us, and that’s what he did. He didn’t put his head down; he kept his head up and helped us win this game.”

Buffalo State would continue to have trouble dealing with Salisbury’s well-executed triple-option offensive attack on the next series, as the Seagulls drove 95 yards on 14 plays. Aaron Moore would cap off the six minute and 15 second drive with an 8-yard touchdown run after bouncing off two Bengal defenders into the end zone as Salisbury extended their lead to 28-17 with 1:55 left in the third quarter.

Hoppy would throw an untimely interception on the next drive, as Mike Landry made a play on the ball to give Salisbury possession on the 47-yard line. The Bengal defense came up big with a game-changing goal line stand on the ensuing drive, as Salisbury was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on consecutive third and fourth down runs from the one yard line.

“Once the defense makes a big play like that, the offense has something to be hyped about,” said defensive tackle Tawone Williams about the shift in momentum provided by the defensive stand.

The Bengals would drive the ball 99 yards down the field in under two minutes on the following possession and Pete finished off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown run, set up by a 35-yard Hoppy-to-Doherty connection. Hoppy would scramble to the left and find an open path to the end zone for the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to three, 28-25.

Three plays later, Sherman Nelson picked off Dunbar at the Salisbury 48-yard line and returned it 33 yards before being pushed out around the 15. Four plays later, Pete found the end zone for the fourth time in the game and the Bengals had a four-point lead, their first since the opening field goal.

With just 3:06 left to play in the game, Salisbury was forced to take to the unfamiliar air. Two rushes followed by three consecutive incomplete passes resulted in a turnover-on-downs and gave Buffalo State the ball back with 1:41 left to play.

The Bengals were able to run off all but 19 seconds before giving Salisbury one last shot at a last-minute comeback.

However, Nelson ended Salisbury’s desperation attempt with an interception as time expired, his second of the day. Boyes expressed how important the team’s first Empire 8 win of the season was, but also made sure to put it in perspective.

“This is huge,” Boyes said of the win. “I’ve asked the open-ended question to the team, ‘when are we going to make noise in the Empire 8?’ We missed [the chance] last week. For them to come out and make some noise was a testimony to this team. You’re able to define your team at the end of the season. We’re showing some signs, but I won’t put any description on it until the end of the season.”

Buffalo State will travel to Maryland this Saturday to take on Frostburg (2-2), who is coming off a 48-7 loss to No. 7 ranked St. John Fisher.