BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sophomore Justin McLendon had a fourth-quarter 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to lift the Kean University football team to a 33-29 win over host Buffalo State College in New Jersey Athletic Conference action on Saturday afternoon.
The Bengals scored 22 straight points to open the fourth quarter to rally from a 26-7 deficit and take the 29-26 lead, before McLendon ran back the Bengals’ final kickoff for the game-winning score with 5:36 left in the game.
For the Cougars (2-1, 2-1 NJAC), senior running back Jay Gwaltney carried the ball 31 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns, while junior Jamahl Williams had two interceptions for the second time in as many games. The Cougars were playing without starting quarterback Thomas D’Ambrisi, who sat out the game with an injury.
The Cougars scored the first 23 points of the game, before Buffalo State got on the scoreboard in the third quarter on a 13-yard rushing score by running back Gibran Johnson.
Kean took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter when junior kicker opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal on the Cougars’ second possession of the game and Gwaltney added a five-yard touchdown run later in the quarter. Williams set up Gwaltney’s touchdown run with his first pick of the game, returning the ball 41-yards to the 11-yard line before a Bengal penalty gave the Cougars first-and-goal at the five-yard line.
In the second quarter, the Cougars scored on their first two possessions to extend the lead to 23-0 at halftime. Senior Rick Brandt set-up the Cougars first scoring drive when he blocked the Buffalo State punt, giving the Cougars excellent field position at the Bengal 33-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback Anthony Giordano connected with senior tight end Matt Puorro on the 21-yard scoring strike to give the Cougars’ the 16-0 lead after the missed extra point attempt.
On Kean’s next possession, Giordano completed an 18-yard pass to senior fullback Sean Atkins to move the ball into Bengal territory and after a 19-yard rush by junior Chris Suozzo, Gwaltney took the ball the final 26-yards, including the five-yard touchdown run with 6:16 left in the half, as Kean built a 23-0 lead after the extra point.
In the second half, Buffalo State freshman defensive back intercepted Giordano on the first drive of the half, giving the Bengals the ball at the Kean 37-yard line. Johnson carried the ball three times to open the ensuing drive, before a Kean personal foul gave the Bengals a first-and-ten at the 13-yard line. From there, Johnson scored on the 13-yard run to give trim the Cougar lead to 23-7.
The Cougars answered right back on their next drive, extending the lead to 26-7 on the 42-yard field goal by Daniels and setting up a dramatic fourth quarter.
After Buffalo State fumbled the ball just two plays into the quarter, Kean gave the ball right back to the Bengals three plays later, as Buffalo State recovered the fumble on the Kean 46-yard line. The Bengals wasted no time, as sophomore quarterback Ryan Lehotsky connected with senior wide receiver Rob Smith on the 46-yard touchdown reception to pull within 26-14 just 2:20 into the fourth quarter.
The Bengal defense forced the Cougars to punt on their next possession, and Buffalo State started its next possession on their own 42-yard line. Lehotsky and Smith connected again on the first play of the drive, this time for a 43-yard pass completion to move the ball the inside red zone. Freshman running back Greg Spears carried the ball three times for the final 15 yards, capping the scoring drive with a six-yard touchdown run, trimming the Kean lead to 26-21 with 9:37 remaining after the extra point.
On Kean’s next possession, the Cougars managed just eight yards before being forced to punt, however on the punt attempt the Cougars fumbled the ball, turning the ball over on downs at their own 14-yard line. The Bengals went right back to Spears on four carries, as he punched the ball in from one-yard out to give the Bengals the 29-26 lead following the two-point conversion with just under six minutes remaining.
McLendon gave the Cougars the lead right back however, taking the ensuing kickoff 85-yards to give Kean the 33-29 lead.
The Bengals had one more chance to regain the lead, however the Kean defense forced Buffalo State to punt after a three-and-out and the Cougars were able to get a pair of first downs on the drive to eventually run out the clock.
Gwaltney added a team-high five receptions for 30 yards, while Puorro added four catches for a team-high 58 yards and one touchdown. In his first career start, Giordano finished 14-of-22 for 141 yards and one touchdown.
Sophomore Brett Yajcaji had a team-high seven tackles, while Williams finished with four tackles to go along with his two interceptions.
For Buffalo State, Brandon Hodgins and Matthew Krumm each had eight tackles, including one tackle for a loss.
The Cougars return home to face Montclair State University in a rematch of last year’s regular season finale on Friday, October 1, at 7 p.m. A year ago, the Red Hawks clinched the NJAC title with the 14-6 win.
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