Blizzard coach Jim May gave his big guns a rest Sunday afternoon. But the absence of all-stars Paul Dougherty and Rudy Pikuzinski in the last game of the National Professional Soccer League season didn't take anything away from Buffalo's offensive punch.
Led by a career-high four goals from forward Andrew Crawford, Buffalo beat the Harrisburg Heat, 16-9, before a Fan Appreciation Day crowd of 10,021 at Memorial Auditorium. The 16-point total was 1.525 points higher than the Blizzard's 14.475 points-per-game scoring average for the 40-game season.
Midfielder Randy Pikuzinski got the assists on Crawford's last three goals and helped set up the first. Randy, who has missed only one game in three seasons, finished the campaign with a club-record 50 assists, breaking his 1992-93 standard of 42.
The American Division rivals had earlier locked up their playoff berths.
Fourth-place Buffalo (20-20) hosts first-place Cleveland (30-10) Friday to open the best-of-three, first round playoff series. Second-place Harrisburg (23-17) must wait until April 3 to open at third-place Baltimore (23-17).
"When Randy's got the ball, you just try to get into the right spots because you know if you're open, Randy's going to get you the ball," Crawford said. "I just happened to be in the right spots, which I think I have been all season. It's just today I actually put them in the back of the net."
"He ended up doing the work. He scored the goals. I was just the last person that touched the ball," Randy said. "It's only one guy that can get the assist, but there's other guys behind the play that create everything."
The second-biggest home crowd of the season saw Buffalo break a 6-6 tie with three unanswered goals within two minutes late in the third period.
The first and third of those goals came on restart plays in which Buffalo's Dean Kelly set screens that lured Heat goalkeeper Doug Petras out of position.
Midfielder Michael Collins nailed the first with a soft rainbow shot that arched behind Petras. Defender Bobby DiNunzio got the second restart score with a surprise left-footed blast after Randy faked a kick.
The free-kick scores were sandwiched around Crawford's third goal, which resulted from Randy's steal and head-pass of a Petras pass.
Crawford's fourth goal, which finished a rush started by Randy, was a short-handed score that put Buffalo up, 14-9, midway through the last quarter.
"He and Andy are a good pair," said May. "Randy's such an unselfish player, as everyone knows. Sometimes to the extent of hurting himself. The guy gives the ball up. He works very, very hard on the field. I don't think there's anybody who works as hard as Randy."
With the playoffs looming, May gave the day off to forwards Dougherty and Rudy Pikuzinski, the Blizzard's No. 1 and No. 2 scorers. He said Dougherty has a touch of the flu and Rudy is still nursing a sore knee. Forward Jean Harbor, who also has the flu, was listed on the score sheet, but did not play.
May used defender Mike Britton as a forward and was rewarded when Britton headed in the first goal of the game off a long pass from goalkeeper Jeff Robben.
Robben stopped 10 of 15 shots in improving his record to 4-2. Defender Michael DiNunzio blocked a game-high six shots to finish the season with 85 blocks.