Bengals knock off No. 18 Cortland in comeback win


Dave DeLuca/The Record

Junior quarterback Aaron Ertel threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 29-21 win over No. 19 Cortland.

Anthony Reyes, Opinion Editor

On Saturday at Coyer Field, the Buffalo State football team faced off against the Cortland Red Dragons. Last time the two teams met, there was no shortage of drama. Saturday proved to be another whirlwind matchup with the Bengals coming out on top by a score of 29-21.

The game was a tale of two halves, and the first half was all Cortland. On just the fifth play of the game, Cortland quarterback Steven Ferreira found wide receiver Jake Smith for a 77-yard touchdown. Less than two minutes into the game, the Bengals were already behind 7-0.

Buffalo State received the kickoff and went three-and-out, a drive that ended in a punt by sophomore punter Ryan Mutterer that pinned Cortland down at their 1 yard line. The Bengals wasted no time, and on the first play, Cortland wide receiver Alex Wasserman was tackled in the end zone for the safety, putting Buffalo State on the board, 7-2.

The teams traded several punts throughout the remainder of the first quarter, but Cortland struck again on the first play of the second quarter when Ferreira found wide receiver Jon Mannix for a 39-yard touchdown and extended their lead to 14-2.

The Bengals were finally able to get their offense moving for the first time on the next drive and had a strong answer with a nine-play, 63-yard drive that ended in a Dale Stewart 1-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 14-9.

Then, with under a minute to go until halftime, Buffalo State quarterback Aaron Ertel was intercepted by Cortland defensive back Carson Lassiter, who took it 59 yards for the touchdown. The teams headed into halftime with the score 21-9, Cortland.

Coming out of halftime, it was a brand new ball game. The Bengals went 62 yards in eight plays on the opening drive, capped off by a 23-yard pass from Ertel to converted wide receiver Joe Oca to cut the lead to 21-16. The Cortland offense was continuously stuffed in the second half by the Buffalo State defense.

With just over two minutes to go in the third quarter, Stewart took the handoff, plowed over one man, broke another tackle and then he was off to the races, scoring on an 84-yard run, giving the Bengals their first lead of the day at 22-21.

The rest of the second half was more of the same; the Buffalo State offense worked efficiently, scoring again on a 2-yard pass from Ertel to wide receiver Stephen Johnson midway through the fourth quarter to make it 29-21, Bengals.

After the Bengals took the eight-point lead, there was still a little over seven minutes to go. The Cortland offense turned the ball over on downs on their last two drives. Buffalo State scored the final 20 points of the contest, winning by the score of 29-21.

The Bengals defense held the high-powered Cortland offense, which averaged 43.2 points-per-game through its first five games, to 21 points and scoreless in the second half.

Buffalo State was led defensively by several players, finishing with six sacks as a unit, and only allowing 170 yards in the second half. But on this day, whenever a big play was needed, it seemed like defensive lineman Anthony Sanders was there to make it. He finished the day with five tackles, including two for a total loss of 22 yards and two sacks for a total loss of 21 yards.

“I can’t even describe it man, for us to come out that second half and play as strong as we did, it’s just amazing,” Sanders said. “I knew from day one, coming into the season that we had the best defense in this conference and I feel like it showed today, coming out and stopping the best offense in our conference thus far.”

Although the first half wasn’t pretty for the Bengals, they knew they were down but not out. Sanders said at halftime the coaches were preaching to not let Buffalo State beat Buffalo State, just go out and beat Cortland. They heard their coaches’ words loud and clear as they came out strong in the second half.

“No matter what the score is coming into the second half, we always look at it as a 0-0 game,” Ertel said. “We read our keys and we play the game. Yeah, we were down, but our team showed tremendous resilience out there and we got the job done. Buff State is for real, I’ll tell you that.”

Senior linebacker John Alessandra, who had a big tackle on a fourth down play and was tied for the team lead with nine tackles, said despite the first half struggles, the defense never lost confidence.

“We knew coming into this game, Cortland was going to get a couple big plays, that’s what they live off of,” Alessandra said. “So we said, let’s minimize the big plays and just keep shutting down the run and we’re going to win the game.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bengals were once again led by Ertel, who finished with 277 yards passing along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Oca, who was Ertel’s favorite target, hauled in nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Stewart led the running game with nine carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns. The offense finished with 456 total yards.

For Oca, it was one of the best games of his Buffalo State career.

“It feels great” Oca said. “I’ve got to give my hats off to my o-line and Ertel for making the good reads. I mean, without those two group of guys, I don’t know what we’re going to do. We pulled this out and I can’t believe it; I’m at a loss for words right now.”

Buffalo State head coach Jerry Boyes knows this is a big win for his team, along with a big turnaround, earning two big wins after two disappointing losses.

“It serves notice,” Boyes said. “It gave us chance to make some noise, you might say, because we’re beating an undefeated team, a team ranked 18th in the country in division III, so now everybody’s gotta go, ‘whoa what’s going on here,’ so that’s nice.”

Although he acknowledged that it was a big win, he continued to stress his “one game at a time” mentality.

“You go from being the hunter to possibly being the hunted and I’ll be curious to make sure we don’t approach it any different,” Boyes said.

Buffalo State will look to extend their winning streak to three games when they take on Finlandia Saturday at noon at Coyer Field.

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