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It was a moment for Buffalo State football lore – Sept. 15, 2012. The location: Whitewater, Wis. The plot: a defensive battle, a low-scoring affair.

The result: arguably the biggest win in Bengals football history.

Buffalo State defeated UW-Whitewater, 7-6, to end the Warhawks’ 46-game winning streak. Whitewater had won the previous three Division III national championships and four of the last five. When it came to D-III football, they were more dominant than Alabama in D-I. The win over the No. 1 team in the nation propelled Buff State into the national rankings (No. 24) for the first time since 2000.

The Bengals, who improved to 2-1 with that victory, dropped their next three games, all at home. It seemed they would end their year in a downward spiral.

Jerry Boyes’ crew, however, regained their swagger. They rebounded and won their last four games to finish the year 6-4. Now it’s a new year, a new team. But for Boyes, it’s all about actualizing the potential they flashed against the Warhawks.

“Now the question that has to be answered,” Boyes said. “Have we truly turned the corner?”

Many would say yes, considering the group of seniors that just graduated went 2-8 as freshmen. But the way Boyes sees it, his team showed it can beat anyone in the nation last year. Why, then, should anything less than a stellar season be acceptable?

“Because of the significant wins we had last year, if we have the season that I fully expect us to have, I hope it is not a surprise” to Western New York football fans, Boyes said. “I hope it’s just more a reaffirmation of where we have come.”

There is some turnover with this year’s squad. Inside linebackers Pasquale Vacchio (who had a whopping 118 tackles) and Jordan Boser (6½ tackles for loss, 2½ sacks) have graduated. Boyes said they were the “heart and soul” of last year’s team.

But there is a lot to like about this year’s Bengals. They return all their major skill-position players. Senior quarterback Casey Kacz (Sweet Home) finished last season 148 of 265 for 2,168 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was All-Empire 8 Honorable Mention and is a dual threat as a rusher. Kacz had 10 interceptions, too, but Boyes said the signal-caller has made big progressions.

“There are a lot of guys out there who can throw and run, but a quarterback has all those physical abilities, attributes, but also has the mental ability of leading a group of men from Point A to Point B. Point B is the goal line.”

Rich Pete was the team’s top rusher last season, and the Utica product is back for his junior season. Pete had 703 yards on 129 carries, an impressive average of 5.4 yards per carry.

Ryan Carney, Kacz’s go-to man, totaled 47 receptions for 786 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 Olean High School graduate is only a sophomore.

Senior defensive end Brian Greene leads a young defense. He had 6½ tackles for loss and three sacks last season.

Buffalo State plays in the Empire 8 conference, one of the toughest in Division III, and has a rough out-of-conference slate with games against Cortland and Brockport.

But no date on the schedule is bigger than Saturday, Sept. 21. This time, the matchup with Wisconsin-Whitewater is at home. After last year’s game, Boyes fully expects the Warhawks to come into Coyer Field with an edge.

“I think they’re going to come in with the mind-set that last year was a fluke and we’re going to show you that right now.”

The Bengals’ season opens at Cortland on Saturday, Sept. 7.

email: amansfield@buffnews.com