Buffalo State football coach Jerry Boyes allows his quarterbacks the freedom to change a play if there is a better choice.
Saturday that policy paid off in the Bengals' 32-20 victory over Division I-AA Robert Morris College in the season opener before 904 at Coyer field.
Clinging to a 25-20 lead in the third quarter of a game they once led by 25 points, the Bengals needed a big play to shift the momentum. Quarterback Chris Henry supplied it with his head and his legs.
Seeing an overloaded defense to the wide side of the field, the senior from Niagara-Wheatfield called his own number and ran 86 yards for a touchdown on a quarterback keeper. That score with 6:08 left in the third quarter gave State the breathing room it needed.
"That stopped the air from coming out of the tire," Boyes said. "Chris saw something we look for, (called the audible) and made a great play out of it."
An 82-yard TD run by Lamar Wilson on Buffalo State's first play from scrimmage helped the Bengals get off to a 22-0 first-quarter lead against coach Joe Walton's Colonials. Wilson was one of four tailbacks Buffalo State used in the game.
The Bengals tacked on a 31-yard field goal by freshman Michael Laney in the second quarter to go up 25, then struggled.
"We had a great 15 minutes and then 45 minutes of just trying to hang on," Boyes said of his Bengals, who were ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation among NCAA Division III teams before the season.
Wilson, who was forced out of the game with a knee injury in the second half, took an option pitch from Henry and ran 19 yards for the second Bengal score. Henry ran 19 yards on a keeper for the third TD on the final play of the opening quarter, then Robert Morris scored the next 20 points. Tailback Donald Dorsey (23 carries for 143 yards) scored from 15 yards out late in the second quarter and Nick Daniels and Dorsey registered short runs in the third to narrow the deficit to five.
After Henry's run, the Bengals got some big defensive plays to keep Robert Morris off the board. Linebacker Omar Rimlavi recovered a fumbled snap by Robert Morris quarterback Tim Levcik at the Bengals' 25 with 3:26 left in the third. Levcik was trying to play with an injured thumb.
Early in the fourth quarter Buffalo State safety John Williams intercepted a badly thrown ball by Levcik to again stop RMC inside Bengal territory.
"It was pretty much a gimme," said Williams, who had a more difficult interception in the first half that led to the Laney field goal.
Wilson, a junior from Gates-Chili near Rochester, returned a kickoff 100 yards against Robert Morris in last year's season opener.
The long runs by Wilson and Henry helped Buffalo State pile up 517 yards of total offense. Henry ran for 115 yards on seven carries, while Wilson had 114 on the same number of attempts. Henry completed 11 of 23 passes with two interceptions. Four of the completions went to wide receiver Derek Baker for 67 yards.
Robert Morris had 336 yards of offense, most of it in the second half when the Bengals' defense was on the field a great deal. "We were a little shaky there and they kept getting good field position," the Bengals' Williams said.
"The heat was something you have to overcome," said Bengals senior linebacker Jon Crumley, who had one of State's four sacks.
The Bengals' next game is Sept. 18 against Adrian College (Mich.) at Coyer.