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Buffalo State can’t hold late lead; ECC falls

Buffalo State fought back from two 10-point deficits to take a late lead, only to see Ithaca score with 22 seconds left for a 24-20 victory over the Bengals on Saturday before a Homecoming Day crowd of 2,124. It was the Empire 8 Conference opener for the Bengals (2-2, 0-1).

Erie Community College, on the other hand, never led and dropped a 23-13 decision to Hudson Valley CC at Jim Ball Stadium, despite outgaining the visitors, 306-301.

At Coyer Field, Ithaca owned the lead, 17-7, midway through the fourth quarter before Buffalo State rallied. The Bengals moved in front, 20-17, on a 14-yard pass from Casey Kacz (Sweet Home) to Sherman Nelson (Cardinal O’Hara) with 3:30 left and an 18-yard run by Rich Pete with 1:05 to go.

However, the visiting Bombers (3-0, 1-0 Empire 8) drove 72 yards in five plays to win it. Ithaca’s Vito Boffoli caught a pass from Phil Neumann on a short crossing pattern, bounced off a defender and sprinted 30 yards for the winning score. Neumann passed 62 yards to Jared Prugar on the last play of the first quarter to open the scoring. The other Ithaca touchdown came on a 63-yard punt return by Josh Oliver with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter.

Kacz completed 24 of 44 for 262 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Pete had 91 yards rushing on 15 carries and caught five passes for 52 yards. Mike Doherty (Kenmore East) had six catches for 79 yards and Ryan Carney (Olean) caught seven for 67 yards. Shaq Frederick had nine tackles, and Brian Greene registered two of the Bengals’ four sacks.

Ithaca avenged a 21-14 home loss to the Bengals last season which ended the Bombers’ seven-game winning streak in the series between the schools.

In Orchard Park, Hudson Valley (1-2) needed to travel only 9 yards in one play to take the early lead after tackling ECC punter Jake Cheney for an 11-yard loss after a bad snap on fourth down from the Kats’ 20. Nick Casale passed 9 yards to Donnie Neal just 2 minutes into the game and the Vikings from Troy were off and running.

Natale also passed for the two-point conversion.

HVCC made it 11-0 on a 21-yard Anthony Vilardi field goal midway through the second quarter before the Kats cut the deficit to 11-10 on a 41-yard field goal by Kyle Deween and a 13-yard pass from Connor Simmons to Marcus Carter.

Natale passed for another touchdown in the third quarter before Deween kicked a 40-yarder to bring ECC to within 17-13. Then Elojaj Udoh of the Vikings sealed it with a 64-yard scoring run 15 seconds into the final quarter. ECC twice drove deep into Hudson Valley territory after that, failing to convert a fourth down once and ending the game on the HVCC 15-yard line.

Simmons of the Kats completed 20 of 34 passes for 224 yards, but was sacked five times by the Vikings for 45 yards in losses.

Tahj Dennis led ECC in rushing with 61 yards in 13 carries. Carter had five receptions for 59 yards while Mike Wright caught five for 40. Kareem Manns had two interceptions and Khaleel Castillo forced and recovered a fumble for ECC.

Buffalo State will visit Alfred (2-1 after an overtime win Saturday at Brockport State) next Saturday for another Empire 8 Conference game at 1 p.m. while ECC (1-3) will face Lackawanna College in Peckville, Pa., at 2 p.m.