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Two wins a row. A winning streak.

It's a little too early to get excited and declare Buffalo State football out of its dismal spiral downward.

But winning three games, including its first win streak in four years, has put a positive buzz around the Bengals for the first time in a long time.

"I really think this group is starting to buy into what we're trying to do," first-year Bengals coach Paul Shaffner said. "They're playing together and learning how to face and overcome adversity. They understand that together, we can do anything. Adversity will always be there. Better teams face it and lesser teams succumb to it."

Indeed, ask Shaffner what's been working for his football team and you get a decidedly non-football answer. If all coaches play part-psychologist, the Bengals may have needed Dr. Phil on the sidelines. After going 4-25 in the Bob Swank era, the once glorious Division III tradition of Buffalo State had gone into a free fall from grace.

Turning that around would require a multilayered approach. Technical aspects on the field and recruiting and retaining good athletes are keys, but would be meaningless without a solid base.

"It's so difficult to change attitudes and change a culture, which is what we're trying to do," Shaffner said. "When you're in a losing situation for three years, you get accustomed to that. When adversity comes, it's easy to fall into 'here we go again.' What the guys are starting to realize is that things happen. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't. But we want them to focus on the play at hand. We'll worry about the next play when it comes."

So far, it's starting to come together. The team started 0-4 but has won three of four. They have two games left, including their home finale Saturday against Thiel (7-2). Though 3-7 or 4-6 isn't the kind of football team Shaffner wants the Bengals to be, it would be a step better than the last three seasons.

Improvement on the field is noticeable in the defense, which, with its 26-0 win at Plymouth on Saturday, had its first shutout since 1997.

The offense has become more effective, averaging 239 yards a game with seven touchdowns in the last two games.

Now Shaffner has another psychological test with his Bengals -- how they react to success.

"I was concerned a little last week because we had won two out of our last three games," Shaffner said. "I was pleased. We played pretty well and we didn't get cocky at all. . . . The kids are pretty grounded. We've won, but we're not close to where we want to be. Every week when we look at game tape, there are things we really need to get better at."

The climb back to .500 is a long one for the Bengals, but people at Buffalo State are happy with Shaffner's progress. Most important, they're comfortable with his approach and with the culture he's instilling in the program. The wins will come in time. Right now, Shaffner has helped the Bengals regain some self-respect.

Niagara-Canisius spiced

Granted, Canisius and Niagara don't need any extra motivation in a head-to-head matchup. Still, this Saturday's men's soccer game at the Demske Sports Complex may have some extra significance. Should the Golden Griffins win and get some help from Fairfield, Siena and Rider, they will make their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament appearance since 1996.

Senior Chris Robey (Kenmore East) leads the Griffs in scoring with six goals and three assists followed by sophomore Brian Brehm (Lancaster) with four goals and two assists.

The Griffs are 4-11-1 overall and 3-4-1 in the MAAC.

The last time they beat Niagara was in 2000. The Purple Eagles (4-12-2, 2-5-1) have been eliminated from postseason contention.

Around campus

Ricky Scott reportedly will sign a National Letter of Intent with the University at Buffalo wrestling program. Scott, a senior at Valley Central High School in Section IX, won the 171-pound large school New York State title last year and has a 153-29 record in four varsity seasons.

St. Bonaventure earned two rookie of the week honors from the Atlantic 10 this week. Freshman Jon Lopez was named the top men's soccer rookie for the second straight week. Lopez had a goal and an assist for the Bonnies (8-8-1, 4-6) in their 2-1 win at 21st-ranked Rhode Island on Sunday. It was the first win for Bona over a nationally ranked opponent this season. Meanwhile, freshman swimmer Anneli Johnson (Frewsburg) also earned rookie honors. Johnson holds the Bonnies' top times in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events with 1:05.04 and 2:21.54, respectively.

Niagara freshman Ashley Riggs was named College Hockey America's offensive player of the week after netting her first collegiate hat trick at No. 6 St. Lawrence on Sunday. Teammate Allison Rutledge was named the conference's defensive player of the week as the goaltender recorded 21 of her 35 saves on the power play in a 2-0 loss to the Saints on Saturday.

Quarterback Darmel Whitfield (Seneca) had a career-high four passing touchdowns for Gannon in a 42-15 victory over Wayne State on Saturday. Whitfield reset the Golden Knights' single-season passing record for the third straight year with 2,355 yards.

Three freshmen set school records in their first collegiate swim meet for Fredonia last weekend. Teresa MacInnes (Kenmore East) broke the record in the 1-meter dive with 193.10 points. Alison Eckert (Eden) set the mark in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 2:21.22 while Lexie Chapman (Lockport) set the record in the 500 free with a time of 5:33.96.

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