Will Buffalo State ever beat Rowan?
Saturday provided the best opportunity yet, but once again, the Bengals could not get it done.
And so, they are left to ponder the aforementioned question for another season after a heartbreaking 19-17 loss to the Profs in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals at John Page Field.
The winning points came on Mark Migliori's 37-yard field goal with 4:41 left.
"The way this series has gone, you almost start to think it just isn't meant for us to win one," said Buffalo State coach Jerry Boyes, whose team is winless in six tries against Rowan, including an 0-5 mark in the NCAA playoffs. The Profs (9-2) also beat the Bengals (9-3) earlier this season in Buffalo.
"I don't know what it is about us," Boyes said, "but they seem to have our number."
Of all the losses, Boyes admitted this one was the most bitter. The Bengals drove into Rowan territory on nine different possessions but only had a touchdown and a field goal to show for it.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," said quarterback Chris Henry (Niagara-Wheatfield). "Anytime we don't have a great game offensively is when we don't execute. We thought we could move the ball today, but we didn't do it when it counted most."
Henry, who has been hot the last several weeks, completed just 13 of 36 passing for 130 yards and was intercepted three times on Rowan's side of the field in the first half. He also had a critical fumble near the Rowan goal line.
Rowan used various coverages in the secondary to take away Henry's primary receivers. Derek Baker (South Park) and Craig Dana (Kenmore West) had combinbed for 14 catches and 307 yards receiving in last week's 38-35 win at Springfield, Mass. However, Rowan held them to five catches and 42 yards.
The Profs pass rush also kept constant pressure on Henry, forcing him into several hurried throws.
Henry did break loose once, scrambling for a 25-yard touchdown. He added a two-point conversion pass to tight end Melvin Parris to give the Bengals a 17-14 lead with 13:37 left in the game. Buffalo State's defense followed with a goal-line stand, stuffing Rowan fullback Steffon Davis at the 1-yard line on fourth down.
But the Profs regained the momentum when Henry was sacked for a safety by linebacker Mark Hendricks and free safety Curtis Collins.
"We had the right call," Henry said. "I was looking for Derek down the seam and he came wide open, just one more second and we would've had a 99-yard touchdown."
Rowan took the ensuing punt and moved into position for Migliori's game-winning 37-yard field goal with 4:41 left. Buffalo State's last second comeback attempt ended at the Rowan 44 as Henry's fourth down pass to Baker was knocked down with 1:19 left.
"The safety was a big play," Boyes said. "Unfortunately, we had a mental breakdown on the play and someone missed a block. You also have to give Rowan some credit for stopping us in key situations."
The game had the makings of a blowout when Rowan jumped out to a 14-0 lead just 3:30 into the game. After Henry was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage, Profs quarterback Gus Ornstein (21 of 29, 228 yards) connected with wide receiver Taman Bryant for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Rowan scored on its next possession as tailback Justin Wright (31 carries, 150 yards) bolted up the middle for an 11-yard score.
Buffalo State cut the deficit to 14-6 in the first quarter when third-string tailback Lamar Wilson (14 carries, 97 yards) scored on a 60-yard run. Wilson was playing in place of leading rusher Deon Foendoe, who was ill.
The Bengals' defense dominated the rest of the first half, holding the Profs to five first downs and intercepting Ornstein three times. Ornstein also was sacked five times.
"We came out a little flat," said linebacker Aaron Wolozsyn (Lancaster), who picked off one pass and tipped another that was intercepted by lineman Tim Seifert. "The offense started off with the ball and turned it over so quickly, it crushed our starting momentum a little. We had to regroup quickly. After we started getting on a roll, we finally got our act together and started clicking."
But the Bengals' offense kept misfiring. Seifert's interception put the ball at the Rowan 5, but Henry fumbled the center's snap and cornerback Ron Gibson recovered for the Profs at the 6.
"We get three points there and we win," Henry said. "It's always the little things that cost us against Rowan."