DeLuca: Kiss the ‘dog days’ goodbye, Buff State is back


Dave DeLuca, Sports Editor

There may have been some disappointment from Buffalo State’s players and coaches Sunday. The NCAA Division III football championship committee released the 2014 playoff bracket and for the 15th straight year, Buffalo State was left out.

It was a long shot for the Bengals (7-3 overall, 5-3 Empire 8) to make the 32-team list with only six at-large spots available. Even St. John Fisher (8-2, 6-2), who owns a 10-point victory over Buffalo State, was left out.

Monday, however, may have brought out a different emotion. Buffalo State, fortunately, was awarded an ECAC bowl bid, its first postseason berth since 2000. The Bengals travel to Waynesburg University (8-2) on Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

“It means a lot,” Boyes said. “It shows the growth of the program, because that’s one of the unwritten goals that we have is to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is in athletics, you’re judged by your wins and it’s wide open for everyone to see; it’s an easy evaluation.

“When we first started out back in 1986, it was the first step – reach the ECAC game in 1991, and that led to a decade long of playoffs, so can this be that first step on our way to greater things? Only time will tell.”

It’s not the NCAAs, which may be disappointing to some, not because of the committee’s decision, but because it leaves the program imagining what could have been. Two of Buffalo State’s three losses were letdowns. Two of the losses were at home to teams they should have beat.

Losses to Alfred and Utica wound up spoiling the Bengals chances of advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Both games were well within their grasp. Despite being 5-1 in mid-October, Buffalo State finished 2-2 down the stretch.

Lots of things can be said as to why this year couldn’t be “The Year” – the graduation of record-setting quarterback Casey Kacz led to inconsistent quarterback play, a loaded conference, lack of a pass rush, being outplayed in the first half of games – but more importantly, this season may forecast a sign of things to come at Buffalo State and the direction of the program.

It’s been a rough stretch at Buffalo State for over a decade. Seriously. The Bengals finished the regular season with seven wins for the first time since ‘99. Since 2000, the Bengals have suffered three one-win seasons, three two-win seasons, and two three-win seasons over that span.

Since Buffalo State head coach Jerry Boyes took over the program in 2008 for his second stint, the Bengals have made a steady climb from four wins in 2010, to five wins in 2011, six wins in 2012, five wins in 2013 and now seven wins in 2014.

The rebuild hasn’t been easy. The program, at times, doesn’t look like it’s ready to take the next step out of mediocrity. Like against Hartwick back on Nov. 8. Hartwick was an inferior opponent, losers of six of their last seven games and in the basement of the Empire 8.

Buffalo State snoozed through the first half and led just 7-0 at halftime. Hartwick then took a 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter. Buffalo State’s talented roster, headlined by preseason All-Americans Rich Pete and Mike Doherty, seemed on its way to another miserable letdown.

Then, all of the sudden, like Buffalo State has done all year, they came to life. The Bengals scored 28 unanswered points to win 35-10. They followed that up with a 55-21 trouncing of Brockport. They finished the regular season 7-3 and earned a bowl bid.

Buffalo State proved to be one of the most explosive teams in the Empire 8, finishing second in both points-per-game (36.9) and total yards-per-game (418.4).

It looks as if the program is finally on the right track. The program’s recent success, coupled with the multi-million dollar makeover of the Houston Gym, will only help Boyes with recruiting and putting the program back on the map.

The dog days of the early 2000s seem to be in the past. A bowl win on Saturday will even further ensure that the program is finally turning the corner.