Since beating Cortland in SUNYAC play in 2013, Buffalo State's recent history against the Red Dragons has been memorable - and not in a good way.
The Red Dragons have ended the Bengals' last two seasons in the conference playoffs; Buffalo State had dropped five straight against Saturday's foe, four by shutout.
Despite the foreboding history, Mark Howlett's Bengals weren't starstruck by Cortland, No. 6 NCAA Division III team in the country.
"I'm expecting a result [vs. Cortland]; we haven't lost [at home] since I was a freshman," an energized August Finn said after Friday's win over Oswego. "That's something we're definitely proud of, so we're coming out here with everything."
Finn and Buffalo State rode that confidence to an emphatic 1-0 upset over the Red Dragons at Coyer Field Saturday, as Genesee Community College transfer Sofiane Hamadi tallied the game's lone goal in the 47th minute and goalkeeper Andy Queen preserved the shutout in front of a sturdy back four.
"It's a huge victory, especially because they've knocked us out of the playoffs the two years I've been here," said the Bengals' Victor Powell, who deputized at center back in place of the suspended Robert Williamson. And make no mistake - the Red Dragons' national ranking was kindling to Buffalo State's mission.
"[Their ranking] fired us up, especially when we took the lead, it fired us up so much to win every 50-50 ball," Powell said.
Buffalo State improves to 10-1-2 overall - 3-0-2 in SUNYAC play - and remains the lone unbeaten side in the conference.
— Buffalo News Soccer (@BN_Soccer) October 7, 2017
*HERALDING HAMADI: Buffalo State's offensive hero on Saturday wasn't on the roster or part of the team's plans a week before the season.
After posting 10 goals and five assists last year at JUCO powerhouse Genesee Community College, Hamadi reached out to the Buffalo State men's program before being convinced by Howlett to join the side in the middle of August. With Bass Sarr transferring to Cal-State Fullerton earlier that month and Tristan Myers' availability cloudy, minutes were available at forward.
The native of France has brought value to the Bengals this year more for his work rate in unnerving defenders trying to play out of the back, but his game-winner just after halftime showed a clinical striker's touch.
Luke Pavone, who had a role in both goals on Friday, cleanly beat a defender on the left side, entering the Cortland 18-yard box at speed. Hamadi called for the ball and the red-shirt senior captain complied. The Frenchman struck first-time with his right, tucking low to Cortland GK Connor Young's left.
When asked to explain the goal, Hamadi - who also chose Buffalo State as a place to raise his grade-point average - was at a relative loss for words.
"I don't really know, actually," he said. "It was very quick - I asked for the ball and I shoot and it went in, and everybody was happy.
"I just looked at the bench and everyone was screaming, and they just made me laugh."
"[Hamadi] has been building up his fitness," Howlett said. "He's 25 years old and hadn't played since the end of October last year, came into preseason late - last minute - it all happened within five days and he was here. But he understands the game at such a high level that he'd rather do his defensive runs than run forward to get another goal. I love him; he's my type of player."
"He runs like a chicken with its head cut off up there," Powell echoed, with a smile, of the goal-scorer," and he just goes."
*BEASTLY D: Buffalo State's back four of Powell, senior Danny Clavin and fullbacks Devonte Black and Zach Caruso were terrific winning 50-50 balls, tackling with authority and cutting off passing lanes; perhaps most importantly, the quartet avoided costly mistakes.
The selflessness and flexibility of senior Clavin played a major role in Powell's emergency transition from holding midfielder to center back.
"Victor dropped in and said, 'I want to play left [center back next to] Devonte; I feel comfortable over there,' and I said, 'Do what you want to do.' Really we just played our normal game - [Powell] knows the shift because in practice Howlett really drills everyone knowing their positions and other positions as well. A hell of a game by Victor."
Although he'd assumed the role only once in his two-year college career, Powell's strengths aligned with what Buffalo State needed to contend with shifty Cortland striker Migell Ormsby.
"Robert [Williamson] is obviously a lot better at winning balls in the air than me, but I think I'm a little faster than Robert," explained Powell, a product of Clarence High School. "Honestly I wasn't afraid about balls coming in over the top, and when I'm in the midfield, I win a decent amount of head balls too, so I wasn't worried about the aerial threat."
For Howlett, it was Powell's big-game attitude that helped his coach have faith.
"Vic loves when the chips are down," said the fifth-year Buffalo State head coach. "He loves when it's stacked against him to come through, and we put that on him."
*HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: It's a poorly kept secret that opposing teams don't like to play at Buffalo State, and for once, it's not because of the cold weather.
The Coyer Field turf is among the oldest in the area - it's hard, plays fast and the ball essentially never stops bouncing. It's tough for possession-oriented squads to adjust, simply because they cannot move the ball as effectively as they might on grass or newer turf.
"No one likes to come here," Howlett said, with a chuckle. "[Cortland] just played on Fredonia's grass field yesterday, and then they've got to come to this. I'm advocating not to have [the turf replaced] done next summer. Because right now we haven't lost here in two years. The guys love it here, for some reason."
*TRUSTING ELEVEN: One of Buffalo State's strengths is its depth - senior Bucky Benyehuda, transfer Josh Beshaw, freshman Tony Roncone and Brandon Galanti are among the players who can give the team a different look off the bench. From that quartet, only Beshaw and Galanti got off the bench Saturday, and only to give first-choice forward Maissa Dieye a breather.
"It was one of those games where you need such a focus, and whoever we started with, whoever that would have been would have played a lot of minutes today," Howlett said.
The four starting midfielders Sammy Wasson, Pavone, Finn and Ali Shawish all went the full 90 but didn't seem to tire - Shawish was a one-man counter attack twice in the final two minutes, temporarily relieving pressure on a defense asked to absorb Cortland's desperate charges forward. Wasson was responsible on three occasions with back-post defensive headers to prevent the equalizer, while Finn provided his usual dogged effort.
"With August, you know what you're going to get," Howlett commented. "It's 90 minutes of grit and he's going do his work, and he can also put in a ball or two when needed."
*FINAL WORD: "We like the chippy games, we're that type of team. We have a chip on our shoulder always, we're always looking to go into a battle hard." - Danny Clavin, senior defender
Buffalo State (10-1-2): Andy Queen; Devonte Black, Victor Powell, Danny Clavin, Zach Caruso; Luke Pavone, Sammy Wasson, August Finn, Ali Shawish; Sofiane Hamadi, Maissa Dieye. Subs used: Josh Beshaw, Jake Ferry, Brandon Galanti.
Cortland (11-2): Connor Young, Nevin Nambiar, Dan Figarella, Garrett Sweeney, Matt Hellerman; Cam LaVallee, Jake Keller, Miguel Tunas, Matt Aprile, Ma'Cain Spragling; Migell Ormsby. Subs used: Michael Lanzetta, Bronson Harris, Ben Licht, Jake Kaufman, Brian Ellsayed.
The Bengals would have been content with the three points earned Friday against the Lakers - Saturday's upset win was gravy.
"That's the main goal of this weekend was to make sure we won [Friday]," Howlett said following the Oswego game. "We separate ourselves from them, and ultimately we've done our job."
THE GOALS vs. Oswego
*1-0, Buffalo State, 14': Daemen College transfer Ali Shawish wasted virtually no time in making an impact against Oswego. An errant pass out of the back from a Lakers defender was picked off by Luke Pavone, who glided around one marker before veering to his left.
Aware his teammate was about to face pressure from a retreating center back, Shawish joined the foray, shouted to Pavone for the ball, then smashed the layoff with authority into the back of the net.
"Ali can create moments of brilliance," said Howlett of the Lackawanna High School alum. "He can beat a guy wide and whip a ball in or like today, he's had one chance and he's finished, which is incredible."
*2-0, Buffalo State, 33': In what might go down as the Bengals' strangest goal of the season, Buffalo State forward August Finn surged past Lakers center back Tim Ritch, who had no choice but to tackle the attacker to the ground - an easy penalty-kick call for the referee.
"Their center backs were pretty slow so if I just got under him, he'd be clumsy enough where he'd just take me out," commented Finn, who improved dramatically over the summer with the Rochester Lancers of the National Premier Soccer League.
Captain Pavone stepped up to the spot and picked out the lower-right corner, but the official waved off the goal because Buffalo State's Bucky Benyehuda had encroached into the 18-yard box before Pavone had struck the ball.
Initially ruling a direct kick for Oswego, the center referee consulted with her linesman, who overruled and made sure the penalty kick was retaken. Buffalo State's leading scorer again made no mistake, this time striking high into the roof of the net.
33': Oswego's Tim Ritch is beaten by Augie Finn, who's dragged down by frustrated defender. After encroachment by BSC, Luke Pavone pots PK. pic.twitter.com/ApPj2biTEd
— Buffalo News Soccer (@BN_Soccer) October 6, 2017
Pavone's forgiving humor for Benyehuda was amusing. "I told him he's trying to ice me like a kicker in the NFL, but I told him I've got ice in my veins."
*2-1, Buffalo State, 82': Three minutes after seeing his penalty kick saved, the Lakers' Connor Londuski redeemed himself with a nifty one-touch bouncing finish in the box off a service from Jason Siracuse.
Considering how many substitutes the Bengals had on the field at that moment, the final eight minutes could have been nervy. The reinsertion of Williamson and Devonte Black assuaged the problem, however, and Buffalo State was able to kill the match off.
*45 MINUTES OF MISERY: The second half of Buffalo State-Oswego was borderline unwatchable. Six yellow cards were doled out between the 53rd and 68th minutes, ruining the match's rhythm and leaving onlookers scratching their heads.
While the referee crew deserves credit for not letting the match spiral completely out of control, the choppiness affected the game greatly.
"But the second half, like 10 minutes in, it's almost like a circus," Howlett said with annoyance. "No one can get rhythm, no one is possessing the ball - it's just an ugly soccer game."
"You saw in the first half how deadly we can be," added Finn. "When the game starts slowing down and [they're] getting under our skin, that's when we have to be better."
The three points were enough for Pavone - the style was a distant second. "It doesn't matter how you get it - some days are going to be pretty, some are ugly," he said.
*QUEEN'S RANSOM: What a weekend for Buffalo State goalkeeper Andy Queen, who stuffed a penalty kick on Friday and shut out the No. 6 team in the country on Saturday. The Hartwick College transfer - now in his second year at Buffalo State - earned plenty of praise from his teammates and head coach.
"[Queen] is becoming a beast," said Powell. "I think he's one of the best goalies in the SUNYAC right now."
"At the beginning he was still timid, but he hadn't played in a competitive game for two years, and for a goalkeeper, that's an eternity," Howlett explained. "I think he's only going to get better and better and more confident.
Queen, who's started every match of the season, has stopped 16 shots over Buffalo State's five SUNYAC games, totaling 34 on the season. His .60 goals-against average is tops in the conference, while his six shutouts rank second.
*FINAL WORD: "We've been heating up all year - slowly but surely - I don't think we're at our peak yet, but I think we're getting there. We've stayed healthy to this point which we haven't been able to do in the past, which is good. I think we're going to get there very soon." - Luke Pavone, senior midfielder
Buffalo State (9-1-2): Andy Queen; Devonte Black, Danny Clavin, Robert Williamson, Zach Caruso; Tony Roncone, Sammy Wasson, Victor Powell, Luke Pavone; Sofiane Hamadi, August Finn. Subs used: Ali Shawish, Josh Beshaw, Bucky Benyehuda, Maissa Dieye, Jake Ferry, Brandon Horton, Brandon Galanti, Alex DiCarlo, Saleman Salim, Ousmane Sangary, Corey L'Hommedieu.
Oswego: Brian Terra; Thomas Osborn, Tim Ritch, Sean Ormsby, Zach Ericson; R.J. Nichol, Karebo Wilson, Connor Londuski, Hassan Musa, Logan Sperano; Caleb Asamoah. Subs used: Jason Siracuse, Ryan Lindeman, Jack Van Pelt, Noah Grenier, Matt Pascale.