Backup quarterback leads comeback, Bengals in first place for first time since ‘99

AJ Speier/BSC-TV


Dave DeLuca/The Record

Dan Serignese finished 9 of 14 for 155 yards and three touchdowns, including this 32-yard strike to 6-foot-3 senior wide receiver Ryan Carney in the Bengals’ 38-27 upset of No. 13 ranked Ithaca on Satur-

Dave DeLuca, Sports Editor

Dan Serignese, a junior quarterback for Buffalo State, sits alone on a bench.

He can’t sit still and his head keeps turning toward the scoreboard in the west end zone. Sometimes he paces the sideline, before surrendering to his familiar perch.

With each snap, an anxious glance as time ticks away, until the buzzer sounds. Serignese can finally enjoy his first collegiate victory.

Serignese replaced Buffalo State starting quarterback Kyle Hoppy in the second quarter and led the Bengals from a 10-point deficit to a 38-27 road win over No. 13 Ithaca on Saturday. Buffalo State used 31 unanswered points and six turnovers defensively to improve to 5-1 and take over first place in the Empire 8.

The win is Buffalo State’s first over a ranked opponent since upsetting No. 1 Wisconsin-Whitewater, 7-6, in 2012.

“It feels great,”Serignese said. “I’m just happy we got the win, a team win. We’re on top right now. We just have to keep continuing to play,continuing to win so we can make it to the playoffs and take it from there.”

Buffalo State is off to its best start since 1999, when the Bengals started the season 6-1. It’s also the first time since ’99 that Buffalo State has been in first place at this point of the season.

“We wanted that No. 1 spot bad,”Thomas said. “It’s been how long? Maybe 15 years since we’ve been first in the conference. We came out in the second half knowing we had to go get it. They weren’t going to give us nothing because they’re good team. We went out and took it.”

Hoppy opened the game just 2 of 8 for 16 yards and an interception and nearly had two other balls picked off. Hoppy has been dealing with a shoulder injury and had it wrapped up before the game. Buffalo State head coach Jerry Boyes made the change after Hoppy’s interception deep in the Bengals’ end.

Buffalo State defensive back Mitch Thomas prevented Hoppy’s turnover from costing the Bengals with an interception in the end zone.

“I’m going to say some of it [was] performance, a little bit of a guy feeling that it was time,”Boyes said about the switch. “I’m very happy for Dan, because he did some great things out there and was a big part of us winning this game.”

Serignese took advantage of the opportunity and the turnover, putting together a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard pass to junior tight end Edwin Young. The scoring drive cut Ithaca’s lead to 17-14 with 35 seconds left in the first half.

Serignese set up the scoring with a pair of passes to 6-foot-3 senior receiver Ryan Carney — 26 and 32 yards — respectively.

“It was a bit of a double downer [for Ithaca], you might say, with the interception and us driving 80 yards to put a score in right before halftime,”Boyes said. “So, what does that do for the psyche of the players? That series of events right there was just huge to the outcome of this game.”

The Bengals carried that momentum into the second half. Senior receiver Mike Doherty caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Serignese on Buffalo State’s second drive of the half.

The Bengals followed up Doherty’s score with a 2-yard touchdown catch by Jesse Williams. Williams found himself all alone in the corner of the end zone after the 240-pound fullback slipped out of the backfield on third-and-goal and Serignese used a play action fake to fool Ithaca’s defense.

Marc Montana added a 30-yard field goal later as Buffalo State took a 31-17 lead. Serignese led the Bengals on scoring drives in four of his five possessions since taking over for Hoppy.

“I just knew I had to go out and do what I had to do,”Serignese said. “Coming into halftime, we had a little momentum, and the second half just took care of itself.… It was all about execution.”

Serignese finished 9 of 14 for 155 yards and three touchdowns against Ithaca’s conference-leading defense, which came into the game yielding just 9.8 points-per-game.

Serignese’s lone blemish was a premature slide .

Buffalo State was pinned on its own 10-yard line with 9:55 left in the game and Serignese scrambled up the middle on a third-and-10 play, but slid down a yard short of the first down. The ensuing snap on fourth down sailed over punter Joe Going’s head for a safety.

Boyes let him know about it on the sideline.

“I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again,” said a grinning Boyes.

The Bengals scored 31 unanswered points in an 18-minute span before the safety.

Buffalo State’s defense put together an “inspiring”effort, according to Boyes, forcing six turnovers — intercepting Ithaca quarterback Tommy Dempsey three times, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and recovering three fumbles. Ithaca hadn’t committed a turnover since Week 2 against Hartwick and came into the game having committed just four on the season.

Defensive backs Will Cheshire and Thomas each had an interception for a touchdown, with Cheshire returning one 76 yards in the first quarter and Thomas picking off Dempsey early in the fourth quarter and returning it 26 yards for a touchdown.

“Man, we have to be ballhawks, you have to be a ballplayer,”Thomas said. “Just have to stay on your cues, it’s a game of eyes. Stay on your cues, make your reads and you have to make a play.”

Boyes noted that the defense was only rushing three or four on passing plays, which put pressure on its secondary. Dempsey dropped back to pass 43 times, but was only sacked once. Ithaca’s offensive line is experienced with three seniors and two juniors, averaging 6-foot-3, 275 pounds across the line.

“It was up to us; it was up to the DBs (defensive backs),”Thomas said. “The D-line usually holds us down. Any other game they got pressure on the Q (quarterback). This game, we knew it was going to be tough.”

“Ithaca is big. They’re a strong team. It came down to the defense having to just trust it. The D-line had to trust us and we came out and made it happen.”

Thomas was named the Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Week with his two interceptions and game-high 11 tackles. Junior defensive back Marquis Artis had 10 tackles and junior linebacker Joe Alexander had nine.

Playing Ithaca is always special for Boyes, a 1976 graduate of the college. Boyes was an All-American quarterback and led the Bombers to back-to-back Division III title games in 1974 and ‘75. He won on Butterfield Stadium for the second straight time, having beat the Bombers, 21-14, in 2012.

“It’s always a big win over Ithaca, again, because of the history and tradition,”Boyes said. “It’s a personal thing because of my time spent here. The biggest thing is it’s a little testimony to where Buffalo State football is now.”

The big win wasn’t enough to propel Buffalo State into the Top 25. Ithaca dropped out, but still received more points than Buffalo State, getting 64 to the Bengals’22.

However, Buffalo State (5-1, 4-1 Empire 8) enters its bye week in first place in the conference and will host Utica (4-2, 2-2) on Oct. 25.

Boyes is unsure whether Hoppy or Serignese will get the start against Utica. Hoppy leads the Empire 8 in passing yards and third in passing touchdowns. However, he has completed just 50 percent of his passes, second last in the conference among starting quarterbacks.

“No controversy, but we’re going to pick who we feel is the best quarterback,” said Boyes. “A lot of evaluation [Sunday] when we watch the film and as we go into next week. One game doesn’t determine anything.”

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