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Howlett, Cardillo react to 'weird' reunion at Buffalo State

When Buffalo State players, coaches and fans look back at the Bengals' 1-1 draw against Geneseo on Friday, most will not remember the final score, the goal scorers or what the result meant to the conference's playoff race. After all, Buffalo State has a quick turnaround against Brockport on Saturday, so Friday's memories will soon be shrouded by the inevitable positives and negatives of Saturday's contest.

The biggest story line connected to Friday's clash was not revenge against the side that upset Buffalo State in last year's SUNYAC quarterfinal; it was the return of former Buffalo State head coach Mark Howlett to his recent stomping grounds - Coyer Field - where he squared off against his former assistant, now interim Bengals coach Francesco Cardillo.

By all accounts, it was a strange situation. That's no surprise, considering it wasn't any dissatisfaction with his time at Buffalo State that caused Howlett to depart.

"It was a bit weird," Cardillo admitted when asked about facing his old boss. "I don't think I got used to it all game. I'm used to him yelling in my ear, behind me. [But] It was the most fun I've had all season, and I loved every minute of it."

"I tried to just not look over too much," Howlett remarked, with a laugh. "It's been wonderful to see [Cardillo] flourish, to see him really just grab [the job] and make it his own and not just do what we used to do."

[Read more: 5 things to know about Buffalo State men's soccer, 2018]

First-year Geneseo head coach Mark Howlett watches as Connor Ross settles a ball against Buffalo State, the team Howlett coached the last five years. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Cardillo was first to admit that the off-the-field emotions affected his team, which had the better of the possession but put two fewer shots on target (8-6). A little frustrated by his team's lack of composure on the ball and tendency to "be frantic," Cardillo added, "I think emotions were running high for this game, so I think that has a lot to do with it."

The Bengals created a golden opportunity to win in dramatic fashion, as a pass fell to unmarked holding midfielder Nemanja Simic in the final minute of the second overtime. The sophomore turned and snapped a low shot toward the far post - slipping just inches wide of the side netting. The Grand Island HS alum fell to his knees, clutching his head in disbelief.

But other than a bright moment from captain August Finn, whose outside-of-the-foot through ball to Ramazani Juma produced the Bengals' only goal, chances were sparse for Buffalo State. As fatigue set in, discontent with the officiating crew rose and the 33 total fouls began to take their toll, the home side began to unravel a bit emotionally.

Ramazani Juma, right, scored Buffalo State's only goal against Geneseo. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Robert Williamson, who's credited Howlett for influencing his maturation as a player and person, also noticed how the perhaps unavoidable distractions intensified the Bengals' emotions when under duress.

"Obviously [Howlett] was my coach for the first three years I was here; he's a good guy, good mentor of mine," Williamson noted. "He helped me a lot. But with all this extra stuff, we're just looking to play our game. All this extra stuff - the coach, the fans, everything - we just look to play our game. At the end of the day we have a job to do.

"But when we get caught up in those other things, that's when we start losing our heads and doing stupid things."

Robert Williamson, left, was slightly frustrated with how his team responded to the distractions. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

For Howlett, a return to Coyer played to the Knights' advantage. After five years at Buffalo State, the head coach was familiar with the hard turf, windy conditions and unusual style of soccer that usually befuddles the Bengals' opponents. The first-year Geneseo head coach passed along these tips.

"With the wind, and telling the guys little bits and pieces that they'll see, the positioning and how far to drop off - we were able to contain a lot of [their game plan]," Howlett explained. "There wasn't a ton of clear-cut chances for [BSC], even though they had the majority of the ball, I think we had the clearer-cut chances."

While coaching his new team with the intensity of how he oversaw his old squad, Howlett admitted he caught himself in nostalgia a few times.

"I love watching some of these guys play," he said. "Sometimes it was mesmerizing just seeing them play and enjoying that, recollecting to last year and how much I enjoyed that."

Sharing a hug after the final whistle, the two coaches - not long ago on the same staff that was recognized regionally in 2017 - exchanged only a few words.

"[He just said it's] more of a fitting result for both of us," Cardillo recalled, "just from where we've been together and what we've done, it's only fitting."

Deputy DiCarlo

Alex DiCarlo, No. 23 in white, skies to win a header against Geneseo. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

Even though he's in his fourth year at Buffalo State, no one would blame Alex DiCarlo for having nerves before Friday's game.

In the starting 11 for the first match all season - and just the second start of his entire career - the Williamsville South High School alum Alex DiCarlo filled in for suspended center back Saleman Salim and held his own against an experienced Geneseo side, pleasing his head coach and meeting the expectations of his fellow center back.

"I thought he did great," Cardillo commented. "Obviously it's the first game he's started all season, so he's got a little bit of nerves and obviously playing his former coach, it's all part of it. He stepped up well, he did a job and did what he needed to do."

"[Alex DiCarlo is] a phenomenal player," added Robert Williamson, Bengals captain and central defender. "Everything he does in practice he translates onto the field, he puts his head down and he plays every single week.

"I knew it wouldn't be a problem; I knew he'd come in and fulfill the job and do what he was supposed to. I thought he did a very good job today."

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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