Narrow loss hurts UAlbany’s playoff hopes

Photo: Bill Ziskin

ALBANY, N.Y. — The UAlbany football team took the field Saturday looking to keep their playoff hopes in their own hands. They faced off against the Maine Black Bears in front of a homecoming crowd of 8,919. Albany came in having lost two straight games and also losing their starting running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks for the rest of the season due to injury. This would be a tough one for the Danes coming in knowing that quarterback Will Brunson would need to find a way to lead the team to victory.

However, this was not the case. Albany lost this game by a final score of 12-10 and their offense struggled right out of the gate and never really found a rhythm. They were sluggish, could not stop Maine’s pass rush and simply could not run the ball. The key to success for a football team’s offense is to establish the running game early. If so, it opens everything up especially the passing game, where the quarterback can slip some play actions in, getting the defensive backs on their heels and then taking some shots deep.

Albany’s offensive line just could not handle the pass rush coming from Maine. The Black Bear’s defense did a great job mixing up blitzes and disguising their defensive scheme throughout the entire game. Albany started off with the ball first in the game and immediately punted it away after failing to convert on a third down. This was a recurring theme throughout the game where both defenses forced turnovers and forced the opponent to punt. The Danes finished the first quarter of play with a total of 37 yards. Brunson was 4-7 for 25 yards and running back Karl Mofor had 6 carries for only 7 yards (Brunson finished the day 13-27 for 163 yards and Mofor 21 carries for 115 yards).

Albany’s offense really did not pick it up from there other than some big plays here and there. These big plays however (a 58 yard run by Mofor and big pass plays by Brunson to Donovan McDonald in the fourth quarter) would be negated because of unnecessary holding penalties, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and others that would essentially cost them the game. The Danes had a total of nine penalties for a total of 70 yards and backed the offense up so much they were only able to convert one third down conversion out of twelve all game long. A key false start penalty would ultimately lead to their downfall at the end of the game. Brunson was sacked on third down and that false start penalty before the kick would back them up, setting up kicker Ethan Stark for a 44 yard field goal attempt. Stark would hook it left of the upright giving the ball back to Maine where they then ran the clock out.

Head coach Greg Gattuso said after the game “penalties were really bad…we were undisciplined and received penalties at bad times and it is really hard to get consistency on offense… it is really frustrating.” He is completely correct on that statement. Albany just could not get it going on offense because of the constant penalties.

Albany’s offense may have been shaky but their defense for the most part was spot on. Even with the offense struggling to move the ball, the defense refused to let Maine pull away and march the score up. Near the end of the first quarter, defensive lineman Antoine White picked up a fumble forced by linebacker Eli Mencer and scored on the 5 yard return. Jamal Robinson also added an interception for the Danes’s defense when Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson was marching his offense down the field.

These two teams where essentially equal but Maine just made the right plays late and made fewer mistakes.

Albany is home against Rhode Island next weekend and they must win in order to have a chance of making the FCS Division I playoffs. It will be another tough test for the Danes’s offense and they must be more poised and cut down on the unnecessary penalties if they want a chance to win games.

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