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Football Eviscerated in Semifinal at South Dakota State

By Christian Hince | December 17, 2023

A storied year for the University at Albany ended with a uniquely devastating low Friday, as the Great Danes were annihilated 59-0 by the defending champion South Dakota State in front of 12,265 attendees at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, SD.

Reese Poffenbarger threw three interceptions in the first half of Friday’s loss.

Photo Credit: Brent Warzocha/UAlbany Athletics

“They’re a good football team, a great football team,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said of the Jackrabbits, who have won 28 straight games as a program. “It was a good old fashioned whooping from all the way around.”

This ties their worst margin of defeat in program history, with the Great Danes losing 69-10 at Baylor in September 2022. It was also the first time UAlbany saw themselves down double-digits since losing 31-20 at Hawaii in September.

It’s a humiliating end to a landmark season for UAlbany, who saw their first semifinal appearance at any level in 2023 and their highest win total of the program’s time in Division I, finishing with an 11-4 record.

“We had a great year, but just to finish like we did leaves a sour taste in the mouth,” linebacker Dylan Kelly said, having played his final game Friday. In his fifth season, Kelly led the Football Championship Subdivision with 155 total tackles and is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan award, given to the most vaunted defensive player in the FCS.

Down 35-0 heading into half, UAlbany wasn’t given much of a chance. After giving up a touchdown to SDSU on the game’s opening drive, the Great Danes drove inside the Jackrabbits’ 40 before a Reese Poffenbarger interception squashed their chances of keeping up with the reigning national champions. Poffenbarger finished with three picks on the night, all in the first half.

The Great Dane defense, which allowed an average of 17.2 points per game heading into Friday, was uncharacteristically overwhelmed, allowing 337 total yards of offense in the first half alone. On the night they gave up 220 yards rushing, despite coming into the game with the subdivision’s top rushing defense. Having recorded 50 sacks this season, an FCS-best by a margin of nine, the Great Danes couldn’t bring down SDSU quarterback Mark Gronowski for one.

Gronowski finished with 265 yards passing, throwing three touchdowns and rushing for 50 while Isaiah Davis rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Gronowski was the 2022 FCS Championship MVP and is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the most outstanding player in the subdivision. Overall, SDSU outgained UAlbany on offense 556 to 298.

“They’re all around just big and fast,” Kelly said of the Jackrabbit offense. “Their o-line’s probably the best o-line I’ve played since I’ve been here. [Their] running backs are very poised, hard to tackle them, and their quarterback’s obviously really good.”

The Jackrabbits scored through more than just their leading players on offense. An 81-yard punt return by Tucker Large pushed it to 28-0 in the second quarter. They went up 42-0 less than a minute into the second half when linebacker Jason Freeman scooped and scored from 34 yards out after UAlbany running back Griffin Woodell fumbled from a hit by fellow linebacker Isaiah Stalbird. 

Backup quarterback Chase Mason’s first pass was a screen to wideout Griffin Wilde that went for 71 yards to the endzone, extending their lead to 56-0 in the fourth quarter.

With arguably the best season in program history coming to a close, Gattuso doesn’t think Friday’s loss stains the legacy of 2023 for UAlbany. “These guys have played really well,” Gattuso said. “Tonight is a tough one to take for us, but it doesn’t diminish what we’ve accomplished during the season and the tough road we have fought our way through this whole year.”


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