Buffalo State's football team has been overcoming obstacles this season ever since it climbed from a 4-2 record into the Division III playoffs. Therefore, it was no huge surprise that the Bengals overcame another one in a first-round game on Saturday.
Shawn Starks' touchdown with 52 seconds left lifted Buffalo State to a heart-stopping 38-35 win over Springfield College, the East Region's top seed in the playoffs.
The Bengals advanced to a quarterfinal matchup next Saturday at Rowan, the team that handed them their second loss this year.
"I was glad we could change history," said free safety Rodney Randall, referring to the Bengals' recent history of playoff disappointment. Buffalo State had made the NCAA tournament four times since 1993, but had been bounced in the first round each time, three times by Rowan.
Randall, who picked off Springfield quarterback Kevin Cahill near midfield with 13 seconds remaining to seal the win, was one of several Bengal stars. Quarterback Chris Henry, who completed 18 of 22 for 335 yards with no interceptions and three touchdowns, supplied a fitting encore to his school-record 356-yard showing in last week's 28-21 triumph at Ithaca -- which opened the playoff door for the Bengals.
Twice in the final 7:05, Henry (Niagara-Wheatfield) rallied his team to come-from-behind touchdowns. The first came with the Bengals trailing, 28-24, after lineman Nick Runco pounced on a Cahill fumble deep in Buffalo State territory, which halted a Springfield bid to put the game away.
Henry moved the Bengals 75 yards in just five plays, one of which was a 28-yard pass to split end Craig Dana (9 catches, 187 yards). Henry capped the drive himself when he ran in from the 1, and Tim Round's extra point made it 31-28.
However, Springfield, whose running game accounted for nearly 85 percent of its yardage during the year, regained the lead with 2:51 left on a 41-yard-pass from Cahill to Rich Tassello. That put Henry on the spot once more.
"Situations like this get the blood going," said Henry, "but to be honest, I'd rather be up, 40-0."
Henry and Dana went back to work, burning the soft Pride defense by working the sidelines with precision. Henry found Dana for critical gains of 20, 13, 32, and 9 yards. The last one put the ball on the Springfield 2 with 1:02 to play.
"Their defense was so far off and so far inside that it was just pretty much Chris making the throw and me making the catch." said Dana (Kenmore West). "It was that easy the way they were playing their defense."
Two plays later, Starks waltzed in for the winning score behind a lead block by fullback Brandon Janesz.
"We felt that if we executed, we could move the football," said Bengals coach Jerry Boyes.
That was true of both offenses, which showed early that the game would be a high-scoring affair. The Bengals took the opening kickoff and marched 68 yards on 10 plays for a 7-0 lead. The drive was capped by a 2-yard pass from Henry to tight end Melvin Parris. The Pride then took off on a 14-play, 80-drive that resulted in a 1-yard scoring plunge by Cahill (29 carries for 105 yards), the first of his three scores.
On its next possession, Buffalo State regained the lead, 14-7, when Henry and Parris hooked up again, this time for 3 yards. But late in the second period, Cahill drove the Pride to its second score, with Cahill running for it himself from 14 yards. WIth 34 seconds remaining in the half, Round kicked a 34-yard field goal to put the Bengals up, 17-14.