Late-game heroics push Bengals past Plattsburgh


Dave DeLuca/The Record

Senior midfielder Franceso Cardillo scored game-tying goal to force OT

Tony Callens, Staff Writer

The SUNYAC race in men’s soccer is heating up as the regular season nears to a close. Only the top six teams can make it to the playoffs. Sitting in last to begin the weekend, Buffalo State looked to get right back in the thick of things despite an up-and-down campaign thus far with a pair of matches at Coyer Field to close out their home schedule.

The Bengals would do just that, picking up a 2-0 win against Potsdam on Friday. The game was physical from the start with fouls abound. The two teams combined for 22 in total.

“That’s [the] SUNYAC. The games are going to be physical and they’re going to be close that’s just the nature of the conference,” Bengals head coach Mark Howlett said.

Buffalo State opened up the scoring on a header from sophomore defenseman Alex Cassells in the 28th minute. The score stayed 1-0 until junior defenseman Keegan Lezama added another tally in the 85th minute to seal the win. The defense was stout as sophomore goalkeeper Hunter Hein contributed five saves on the day to keep his forth shutout of the season.

The win against Potsdam set the tone for the weekend, but what followed on Saturday against Plattsburgh is legendary, the kind of game fit for a Hollywood script with one of the most emotional, gritty wins anyone who watches soccer will ever see in a 2-1 overtime win.

On senior day for the Bengals, in their final home game of the season, it was fittingly a senior who shined the brightest of all.

Plattsburgh put a dagger in the hearts of the Bengals with a goal off of a rebound from sophomore forward Alexis Archilla in the 83rd minute that seemed to assure the victory for the Cardinals. All hope seemed lost for Buffalo State, before a bit of magic happened.

With three seconds left to play in the game the Bengals made one last push towards the Plattsburgh net when a mosh pit of players scrambled for the ball in the box.

In all of the madness, as if divine intervention came into play, the ball connected with the foot of senior midfielder Francesco Cardillo in his last game ever at Coyer Field and crashed into the back of the net.

Buffalo State players exploded off the bench as the buzzer sounded and the game went into overtime. The momentum was all on Buffalo State’s side during the break at the end of regulation when Plattsburgh players were heard arguing and shouting at each other.

After a couple of minutes of back and forth play in a game that was physical and chippy all day, Cardillo was fouled 25 yards away from the net to set up a free kick. Set pieces have been a struggle with the team this season but it was just Buffalo State’s day.

Cardillo’s free kick bounced off the crossbar but right down to the feet of his teammate Lezama who tucked the ball into the lower right corner of the net for his second goal of the weekend and the win in the 99th minute.

Pure emotion came out of Cardillo as tears rolled down the face of the captain, the leader and the heart and soul of the team.

“I’ve been with Coach Howlett from the start, for two years. To score a goal to tie the game right at the end in my last ever home game and to win…it’s just incredible,” Cardillo said.

Cardillo finished with a goal and an assist on the day.

The comeback was complete and the Bengals ran out to form a dog-pile at midfield.

The only thing that put a damper on the day was a lower body injury to Hein in the 68th minute after he was undercut by a Plattsburgh player. Senior goalkeeper Ian Huntoon, also in his last home game, replaced him and contributed a save on just two shots from the Cardinals.

“I didn’t want to make it a big deal in my head. I just went out there and did the best job I could,” Huntoon said.

With the win, Buffalo State has won three games in a row and has placed themselves back in the hunt for a spot in the SUNYAC playoffs with a record of 5-9-1 overall and 2-4-1 in the conference.

“We’re hitting our stride now. It took some time with eight freshmen on the team but we’re starting to gel. We started out slow but I like how we’re playing now,” Howlett said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we can win some games and we can be successful.”

The dramatic victory was a storybook way to finish the home careers of the five seniors on the team. The Bengals now look to close the regular season with three matches on the road at New Paltz next Friday, a tough test at Oneonta next Saturday and at Nazareth to finish up on Tuesday the 28th.