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Buffalo State preview: Bengals look to ride the momentum

Coach Jerry Boyes is trying to get Buffalo State back to where it was during the glory years. The last two seasons, the team has shown signs that it’s possible. The Bengals have strung together two winning seasons, last year boasting a defense that led the conference in points allowed.

“I believe the program is moving back in the right direction, absolutely,” Boyes said. “The past two seasons were good seasons.”

A lot of coaches would be happy with the Bengals’ 7-3 regular-season record, even if it was a one-win less than the year prior. Boyes hoped for just a bit more.

“Last year’s season … we were disappointed,” he said. “Frankly, we beat the teams we needed to beat and we lost to some schools we should have beat. We could’ve done better.

“Hopefully there’s some lessons learned from that.”

2015 record: 7-4

Conference: Empire 8.

Top returners: QB Kyle Hoppy, RB Dale Stewart, WR Madison Wesolowski, DB Rey Jordan.

Top newcomers: “Frankly, I hope no one,” Boyes said, noting those who were already within the program should be ready to assume key roles.

Hoppy returns: Starting quarterback Kyle Hoppy is back after missing a majority of last season with a torn ACL. Although Aaron Ertel performed admirably in his absence, Hoppy is the favorite to start this season.

Quotable: “It’s tough physically and it’s tough mentally,” Hoppy said of his injury. “At the end it’s just going to make me stronger in both those categories.”

A lot to replace: The Bengals had a 31-man senior class last season, and seven of the team’s 11 players who made the All-Empire Team last season graduated. That list includes multiple members of the front seven, including star linebacker Marquis Artis (Amherst).

“When you lose that number of starters, it’s up to those faces and names behind them to maintain the level, if not elevate it,” Boyes said. “If you’re doing the right thing the names and faces might change, but the success does not.”

New O-line: Among the departures is the entire starting offensive line. The remaining linemen lack experience, so it could be a a slow start for Dale Stewart and the running game.

New strength: With the losses in the front seven, the Bengals’ defensive backfield will be relied upon more heavily. The group is led by two All-Empire team members, junior Rey Jordan and senior Ish Height.

Jordan, who played on the basketball team his first two years, led the league in interceptions last season. Height made 19 tackles and grabbed one interception.

Playing for Zinni: The Bengals lost offensive line coach Gene Zinni in February when he passed away at the age of 79. Boyes said there’s a sense of playing the season for Zinni, especially from the offensive line.

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