BUFFALO, N.Y. - Buffalo State University scored 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points Saturday to register a 21-17 victory over Plymouth State College in the ECAC Division III Northwest Football Championship Game at snowy Coyer Field.
Playing on a snow-covered field for the second straight week, Plymouth State took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter on the strength of two Josh Norse (Brattleboro, VT) second-quarter touchdown passes and a Paul D'Ascoli (Somers, NY) third-quarter field goal.
Norse connected with sophomore Brent Bardellini (Milford, MA) on a 33-yard touchdown play, finishing off an 80-yard drive, and then hit junior Joel Carey (South Pomfret, VT) from 36 yards out to finish off a 91-yard drive, giving PSC a 14-0 lead at the half. D'Ascoli extended PSC's lead to 17-0 with a 23-yard field goal before the Bengals mounted the comeback.
"We've finally gotten used to playing in the bad weather," said Norse, who finished the afternoon with 23 completions on 40 attempts for 277 yards and a pair of TDs. "They were jamming the middle and giving us the outside flats and that was where we were able to use and open up the passing game. I caught Brent behind the defense (for the first PSC score) and I let it go as I was getting hit. Then Joel made a nice cutback (on the second TD) in the middle of the field and was able to scamper in."
After PSC, leading 17-0, missed a fourth quarter, 40-yard field goal attempt, Buffalo State drove 78 yards on eight plays to get on the scoreboard with 10:07 to play. The touchdown came on a 23-yard pass from Chris Henry to Mike Zappia.
"I don't know if that was a momentum turn," said Buffalo State head coach Jerry Boyes, "but it gave our defense something to fight for."
After another PSC fourth quarter field goal attempt failed, this time from 47 yards out, Buffalo State drove 69 yards on 11 plays and scored a TD on a one-yard run by Shawn Starks with 3:27 remaining.
"All of a sudden, things started to go our way," said Boyes. "Maybe we were a little better today, I don't know."
The Panthers then fumbled the football on the next play from scrimmage, and the Bengals recovered at the PSC 36 yard line. Four plays later, Dion Foendoe scored on a nine-yard burst for the game winning TD with 1:37 on the clock.
"I don't really know what happened (on the fumble)," said Norse. "It's tough when the whole game comes down to one play like that. But even after their last score, we weren't deflated. We still had confidence we could get the ball downfield with a minute and a half to play. It's tough though, when they know you're going to pass downfield."
On PSC's last-ditch effort, Norse was intercepted and Buff. State ran out the clock.
"I'd like to give a lot of credit to Plymouth State," said Boyes. "They're a terrific team. Their 91-yard drive was impressive. One thing we tell our kids is to persevere and to stay with things, and in the fourth quarter, that happened today."
Plymouth State completes the season with a 7-4 overall record, while Buffalo State wraps up an 8-2 campaign. The Panthers, who have made more ECAC post-season football appearances than any team, are now 2-7 in ECAC Championship games.
"This is a tough loss, considering we played so well," said a dejected PSC head coach Mike Kemp. "Our kids battled their hearts out, and sometimes this happens in the game of football. Buffalo State is very talented and that was evident with their fourth quarter performance."
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