Wisconsin-Whitewater rematch looms large for Bengals

After beating then No. 1 Warkawks last season, football faces tough team at home

Buffalo State upset Wisconsin-Whitewater, 7-6, last year on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Casey Kacz to Ryan Carney with 3 seconds to play in the game.

Andrew Smith/Royal Purple Photos

Buffalo State upset Wisconsin-Whitewater, 7-6, last year on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Casey Kacz to Ryan Carney with 3 seconds to play in the game.

It was an upset that sent a sizable shock through all of NCAA Division III football.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was defeated at its home field, Perkins Stadium. A single Warhawks’ loss at the time was hard to fathom, considering they entered the Sept. 15, 2012 contest on a 46-game winning streak.

But an upstart Buffalo State football team traveled to Whitewater, and before 5,872, stunned the three-time defending national champions and top-ranked team in the nation with a 7-6 victory, scoring the winning touchdown and subsequent extra point with three seconds remaining.

The game-clinching 11-play, 75-yard drive took 1:32 and was capped off by quarterback Casey Kacz’s 10-yard touchdown strike to Ryan Carney.

With what coach Jerry Boyes considered the biggest win in school history, the Bengals improved to 2-1 and went on to enjoy their best season since 2000 at 6-4. Now, Buffalo State can follow up on the biggest win in school history when Wisconsin-Whitewater is welcomed to Coyer Field Saturday at noon for an anticipated rematch.

“I’m looking forward to getting a rematch because a lot of people think that we shouldn’t have won the game,” Kacz said.

A home-and-home series was agreed upon by the programs after the 2011 season, when coach Jerry Boyes noticed a vacancy in the 2012 schedule. He advertised on D3Football.com, among other sites, that the Bengals were in the market for an opponent.

When Wisconsin-Whitewater answered the inquiry, Boyes was delighted to jump at the opportunity. He knew it would allow him to gauge how much progress the program had made since starting his second stint as Bengals head coach in 2009.

From 1990-2000, Boyes’ last seasons before taking back the reins five years ago, the Bengals went 85-30, and were at the apex of the program’s history.

“To me, it was exactly what I wanted,” said Boyes, who started coaching the Bengals in 1986. “Two years ago, I wouldn’t have picked up Whitewater. We started over again in 2009. We were not ready to take on a Whitewater. But three years into it and now with all of our ball players, our recruiting kids with us, it was time to see how far we’d come.”

The Bengals, mostly stagnant until Boyes returned from an eight-season coaching hiatus to focus on his duties as athletics director, proved they are moving in the right direction with last year’s win. That is also vindicated by an increased win total each of the last four seasons under Boyes.

With attainment comes attention, however, and Boyes knows the Warhawks will be more prepared this time around.

“Last year it was, who the heck is Buffalo State?” Boyes said. “They were probably kind of looking down at us a little bit, naturally. We’re certainly not going to sneak up on them this year.”

Just like the 2012 matchup, the home team owns the better winning streak.

The Bengals enter 2-0 for the first time since 1999 and are winners of six straight dating back to last season.

The Warhawks, on the other hand, are coming off their first three-loss season since 2004, going 7-3 a year ago. They are 1-0 this season, defeating Washington University-St. Louis, 17-7, on Sept. 7, and have a three-game winning streak. But as Boyes noted, “Whitewater is Whitewater,” hinting at its No. 15 ranking, according to D3Football.com.

Led by Kacz, now a senior, the Bengals possess a highly explosive offense.

At Cortland Week One, the Bengals posted 41 points and then had 42 Saturday against Brockport. Kacz was a dual-threat in each, as he is the team’s leading rusher with 192 yards and has thrown for 613 yards. He leads an offense that averages 498.5 yards per game with six total touchdowns.

Through early film study of the Warhawks’ only game, Kacz believes the game plan in place can make for another effective offensive day. From the brief surveying of Whitewater he has done, Kacz sees a lot of similarities to last year’s defense, which he went 18-of-33 against for 274 yards and the touchdown.

Whitewater did intercept Kacz twice in that game, though, and it should return a stout defense after allowing just 10.2 points per game last season. But having the experience of playing the Warhawks last year, the Bengals could exploit some holes that were noticed.

“They run a lot of two high safeties, a lot of cover two and cover four, which is what they showed us last year,” Kacz said. “They’re doing pretty much what we expect them to do from what it looks like, so we have a game plan in where we hope to attack the weaknesses of their zones that they want to run.”

Kacz will have the luxury of throwing to a target on Saturday that wasn’t available in the initial meeting against Whitewater in Mike Doherty, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. At 6-feet-2-inches, the junior wideout has made an impactful return to the field through two games with 15 catches for 332 yards and a touchdown, including a career-high 228 yards against Brockport.

There has been an apparent chemistry thus far between the receiver and Kacz, a byproduct of Doherty putting in a great amount of effort to not only get back on the field, but to execute on it.

“I’ve worked really hard this summer and me and Casey Kacz worked over the summer together a lot and so far things have gone really well,” Doherty said. “We plan on beating Whitewater and whoever else comes across our way.”

While the offense has had no trouble finding the end zone, stopping opponents from doing the same has been trying. The defense is allowing 34 points per game, but has made key plays late in both wins to supplement a pair of offensive outbursts.

“What I hope is the lesson from last year is that if we worry about what we can control, play the way we’re capable of, that we can be a darn good football team,” Boyes said. “… That’s what we have to do in order to come out on top on any Saturday — it doesn’t make any difference who you play.”

Aaron Garland can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @AA_Garland.