Buffalo State pummels Utica to win fourth straight

Sophomore running back Dale Stewart toted the ball 28 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns in Saturdays I-90 Bowl victory over Brockport. He added 28 yards on three receptions.

Dave DeLuca/The Record

Sophomore running back Dale Stewart toted the ball 28 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s I-90 Bowl victory over Brockport. He added 28 yards on three receptions.

Anthony Reyes, Opinion Editor

The Buffalo State football team hit the road for the first time in four weeks on Saturday, coming off a three-game home stand in which they won all three games and turned their season around after a 1-2 start.

For the second straight season, they were again set to go head-to-head with the Utica Pioneers in a crucial game. Last year went in the Pioneers favor, but this year, Buffalo State came out with a 28-16 win.

The win was the fourth straight for the Bengals, the first time they have accomplished that feat since 2012.

“It feels good, getting back on track after having those two tough losses to Morrisville and Alfred,” senior linebacker John Alessandra said. “As a team, we had to decide what we wanted our season to be.”

For much of the year, the Bengals have played stout defense and coupled that with an explosive running game. The contest against Utica was much of the same.

Senior linebacker Shaq Frederick led the Buffalo State defense with 18 tackles while Alessandra finished with 10 on the day. The defense added four sacks and two interceptions as well. For the second week in a row the two interceptions came courtesy of first-year defensive back, sophomore Rey Jordan.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was another newcomer who led the way as sophomore running back Dale Stewart tied a school record with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. He also added 18 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown. He and fellow running back, junior Tre Jones accounted for 215 of the 248 yards of total offense and three of the four touchdowns Buffalo State had on the day.

The strong effort earned Stewart Buffalo State Athlete of the Week honors as well as Empire 8 Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He is joined by his teammate Frederick who earned Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Saturday’s game got off to a quick start for the Bengals. Although they went three-and-out and were forced to punt on their first drive, Utica’s Chance Harris fumbled the punt and Buffalo State defensive back Sekret Kukaj recovered the ball in the Utica red zone.

Two plays later, junior quarterback Aaron Ertel found junior wide receiver Madison Wesolowski for an 11-yard touchdown, and the Bengals were on top 7-0 less than three minutes in the game.

Buffalo State’s next possession ended in disaster. Ertel dropped back to pass on third down and Utica’s Nick Woodman sacked him. Ertel fumbled and the ball was recovered by Utica in the end zone for their only touchdown of the day, tying the game at 7 apiece.

The ensuing Bengals’ drive stalled and they were forced to punt yet again, but punter Ryan Mutterer pinned Utica back on their own 7 and set the defense up in a good spot. On the first play of the drive sophomore Khalil Sommerville pounced on Utica quarterback Teddy VanGalen and sacked him in the end zone for a safety. The Bengals had the lead back, 9-7.

The teams then went a combined 11 straight possessions without scoring points until Jones rushed for 20 yards and a touchdown to extend the lead to 15-7 heading into the half.

Utica was able to get field goals on each of their first two drives of the second half, which narrowed the Bengals’ lead to 15-13. That was when Stewart took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards back to he house to make it a two-score game and increase the lead to 22-13.

Four minutes into the fourth quarter, Utica would add another field goal to make the score 22-16. But once again, just when they thought they were back in it, Stewart came through with the knockout punch, capping off a 6-play, 73 yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown and making it a two-score game once again, 28-16.

“Every time I get the ball, this is the way I think, ten yards or touchdown, that’s what I go for, I don’t ever try to sell myself short,” Stewart said.

Utica had two more drives in the game that each ended on interceptions by Jordan. The Bengals relied on their strong running game to run the clock out and came out with the win, 28-16.

The Bengals held the Pioneers to just 35 yards rushing and 204 yards passing and didn’t give up a single offensive touchdown.

They have now won four straight games while allowing just 44 points and haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown in more than 10 quarters.

“I guess the old adage still is true in football: you win with great defense, and that’s a thing we’ve been doing very well the last four games,” head coach Jerry Boyes said.

Alessandra said that the coaches believe this is one of the best defenses in school history. He knows they’re going to need to keep it up if they want to reach their ultimate goal.

“Every game is the most important game of our season, because we put ourselves in that position,” Alessandra said. “So it’s do-or-die every game. We know that we have to win and we come in there as a defense as in we’re going to shut things down.

“We’re not going to let anyone score on us. All of us believe in ourselves. We trust the player next to us to do their job. We’re really confident right now.”

It was a big win for the Bengals as it keeps them in a three-way tie for second place in the Empire 8 going into the final three weeks of the season.

“We wanted this game, I think, a little bit more than Utica,” Alessandra said. “Because we already learned from our mistakes last year, all the older guys on the team, and we just really came out there and we were going to refuse to lose and we expected to win.”

Buffalo State will the hit the road again next week for the final time this season when they take on Hartwick Saturday at 2 p.m.

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