By Christian Hince | December 4, 2023
The University at Albany dominated Richmond through all four quarters Saturday, Dec. 2 in a second round playoff game between Colonial Athletic Association co-champions.
Reese Poffenbarger (#7) celebrates his second rushing touchdown Saturday next to tight end Carter Moses (#84).
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / The ASP
It’s their first time advancing to the FCS quarterfinals since moving up to Division I in 1999 as well as their first double-digit winning season since moving up, now sitting at 10-3 riding a six-game winning streak. Having defeated both CAA title-sharers, with UAlbany cruising over Villanova 31-10 in September, the Great Danes have named themselves “undisputed” league champions.
“No knock on Richmond, but they didn’t play a lot of the same teams that we did,” quarterback Reese Poffenbarger said. “We thought we had a harder road and that we were able to prove it today that we were the better team.”
In front of a crowd of 2,562, UAlbany won by controlling the line of scrimmage, as their front four put on a dominant display. Edge rusher AJ Simon led with 1.5 sacks while fellow linemen Anton Juncaj, Joe Greaney, and Elijah Hills each tallied one.
“It always starts up front,” Simon said. “Once we get pressure on the quarterback, it's going to open everything up for everybody else.”
Juncaj and Greaney’s sacks both forced fumbles that led to touchdowns in the third quarter. Up 41-7 entering the fourth, the UAlbany front allowed zero net rushing yards through the first three periods.
The other forced turnover came with 3:25 left in the first half, when cornerback Bill Hackett jumped a route for a 71-yard pick-six that put the Great Danes up 27-7. Aamir, the other starting cornerback who played against his former team Saturday, also recorded an interception on the following drive.
“Those two corners are very good,” Gattuso said. “We struggled in many cases last year on the outside, and [this season] you can see the difference.”
On offense, Reese Poffenbarger improvised with ease and threw two touchdowns, one of them coming on a seven-yard toss to wide receiver Marqeese Dietz while avoiding pressure to put UAlbany up 14-0 with 0:22 seconds left in the first quarter.
Poffenbarger scored twice on the ground as well. One of them came on a 20-yard scramble in the second quarter and the other occurred on a fumble by running back Griffin Woodell which he picked up and ran in from seven yards out.
Woodell finished just shy of another 100-yard performance, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“Reese is amazing, the whole offense is amazing,” Simon said. “We [defensive players] feed off them and they feed off us.”
Richmond, despite losing handily, outgained UAlbany in total yards 314 to 311 and had 27 first downs to the Great Danes’ 17. Spiders head coach Russ Huesman attributed this to better playmaking and coaching from the Great Danes across the game.
“Congratulations to [U]Albany, they got a heck of a football team and they can win in this tournament here,” he said.
Saturday’s win was far from the Great Danes’ cleanest performance, with their 103 penalty yards being a season-high.
“Some of the penalties were silly, and some of them, in my opinion, were very questionable,” Gattuso said. “I think that we've got to get some balance in that and play smart.”
It’s a lesson that will matter next Saturday, Dec. 9, when they head to Idaho to face the fourth-seeded Vandals. Playing 2,653 miles from home in Moscow, ID, it won’t be the first time these Great Danes have played in another time zone with them going on the road against Hawaii in September.
“We’ve really embraced the only us, never them [mentality]” Gattuso said. “I'm not fearful of making a hard trip and playing a game, it doesn't worry me even a little bit.”