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HOFHER HOPES BULLS CAN UNEARTH MORE GEMS

Each triumph, he says, is like adding another beautiful pearl on a string. Jim Hofher says it with sincerity and in a tone that seems earnest.

He wants you to believe that while his first win as coach of the University at Buffalo last Saturday at Connecticut was special, it is only a small part of a much bigger scheme.

So Hofher placed the game ball in a glass trophy case in the UB football office, and talked about how the team can secure more treasures.

"The first game, the 10th game . . . we play to win," said Hofher, a native of Middletown, Conn., whose team defeated UConn, 37-20. "It was fun. I'm from Connecticut so there were far too many Hofhers there to count, but that was fine.

"We're selfish, so we want a lot more. It's one game and I think we were hungry. But we have to stay hungry because it was only one game. We have to try to add them up and be a good team enough times where we add them up and look and see at the end of the season . . . we can say, 'Yeah, we maximized where we were.' That's part of development, that's part of coaching."

His next chance comes Saturday when UB (1-2, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) plays host to Central Michigan (1-2, 0-1) at UB Stadium. But first, Hofher will probably have to deal with more congratulatory messages. Former Syracuse University coach Dick MacPherson, among others, has already called and he's appreciative of the kind words. But on Tuesday, Hofher reflected on how much the victory meant to the players, who halted an 18-game road losing streak.

"It makes me feel good because the kids feel good," he said. "I can keep coaching, but they only have so much (time) to play college football. I've got a long time, or I hope I have a long time, so I want them to be able to maximize their enjoyment. Just winning a football game, we don't care where it is, is its own joy."

At least things appear a bit more promising than they did only a few weeks ago. The offense looks like it was able to take off the training wheels and UB looked nothing like the team beaten by Bowling Green two weeks, 35-0.

The Bulls rushed for a season-high 149 yards and senior Joe Freedy, throwing shorter passes than usual, finished 20 of 36 for 218 yards and one TD. The defense held the Huskies to 221 yards total offense and seems to improve as the season progresses. Take away the 54-yard Hail Mary touchdown to end the half and the 72-yard fumble recovery in the fourth quarter and UConn would have been completely buried by UB.

"It's a step," Hofher said. "They should feel better about what they've been practicing and how they've been practicing and why they've been practicing. They should apply those records today, tomorrow and Thursday and Friday and in the game on Saturday night. You can't just tell them, 'Hey, you're good.' But guys know it when they perform well and they should play better."

Saturday's game, however, wasn't more exciting than Hofher's first win as coach at Cornell in 1990. On the final play of the game, Princeton, the defending Ivy League champs, threw a Hail Mary and Cornell's defensive back didn't stop the receiver until he reached the 4-yard line. Cornell won, 17-14.

"Something always happens," Hofher said. "It's not round, and it bounces funny."

e-mail: r mckissic@buffnews.com

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