Football

Two defensive stands lift UAlbany football to opening victory

www.timesunion.com

Banks of snow surrounded the playing surface at Wildcat Stadium and game-time temperatures were in the mid-20s, so you can understand that it took the University at Albany a while to warm up Friday night in Durham, N.H.

Playing its 2020 football opener in March, UAlbany, ranked 13th nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision, scored 17 straight points in the second half and held off No. 14 New Hampshire 24-20 in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both teams.

“I didn’t think the wind could get any colder than it does in Albany,” Danes coach Greg Gattuso said, “but I’m pretty sure it was a little colder today here in New Hampshire.”

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler threw three touchdown passes, part of a 23-for-36, 192-yard effort, but it was the Great Danes’ defense that sealed this victorious return to the field, which came 15 months after UAlbany’s previous game. COVID-19 canceled the fall schedule.

UNH, which had the extra point blocked on its third touchdown, had two possessions — eight total plays — inside the UAlbany 25-yard line with less than three minutes to go but came up empty.

“The chatter (in the huddle) was to bend, don’t break,” Danes defensive tackle Mazon Walker said. “Even though the circumstances were against us, we know that we’ve been there before. We know that we’ve overcome adversity. It was just back to business.”

New Hampshire’s next-to-last drive started with 5:01 to play. The Wildcats drove it to the 19, but A.J. Mistler broke up a pass on fourth-and-4 with 2:14 remaining.

The Danes couldn’t run out the clock, then compounded their problems when Sean Ralls botched the punt snap. He tried to kick the ball off the ground but was called for an illegal kick, setting up UNH at the UAlbany 7-yard line with 1:09 to go. Four incomplete passes, mixed in with two 5-yard penalties against the Wildcats, snuffed out the final hope for New Hampshire.

“I just want to give a shout-out to our defense,” Undercuffler said in his opening comments to the media. “They stepped up and just ended the game for us. I turned it over. That’s my fault, and I told the team that we’re all right, that the defense is going to pick us up, and they did.”

Undercuffler’s turnover came midway through the fourth quarter with the Danes seemingly in control, holding the ball and a 24-14 lead. On third-and-10 from the UNH 49, Undercuffler fumbled as he was sacked. The Wildcats’ Oleh Manzyk picked up the loose ball and ran it to the Danes’ 25. Two plays later New Hampshire was in the end zone, but Jared Verse blocked the extra point to keep it a four-point game.

“Anytime you can block a kick, it’s huge,” Gattuso said. “Blocked kicks are the big turning things in games, and they always come back and haunt you. The blocked punt before the half was a mistake we shouldn’t have made. We knew they were going to come, we made a mistake, and they hurt us with it.”

A blocked punt by Zedane Williams, and J.J. Jerome’s recovery in the end zone with 1:08 to go, snapped a 7-7 tie and gave the Wildcats a halftime lead.

The Great Danes received the second-half kickoff, and Undercuffler led an 11-play, 74-yard drive. Tyler Oedekoven (10 catches, 81 yards) snared an 18-yard pass for the touchdown to tie the game at 14.

UAlbany capitalized on a New Hampshire fumble, taking over at the Wildcats’ 22-yard line, to take the lead. Undercuffler hit Karl Mofor from 9 yards out on the sixth play of the drive to make it 21-14.

“What separated the two teams is that they executed a lot better in the second half than we did,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell, whose team was penalized 12 times for 95 yards. “They played a lot cleaner in some situations. Our penalties were disappointing.”

Each team scored on its first possession with 14-play drives. Max Brosmer capped the UNH march with a 4-yard pass to Sean Coyne. UAlbany, whose drive was extended by an unsportsmanlike penalty against Williams, tied the game on Undercuffler’s 23-yard pass to Mike Gray.

UAlbany’s six-game schedule resumes Saturday, March 13, at Maine.

“I’m glad we got to do it,” Gattuso said. “I’m we’re blessed to be able to get out here and play with all the troubles in the world right now.”

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