By Christian Hince | October 23, 2023
The University of Albany was already up 21-3 on the visiting Rams when quarterback Reese Poffenbarger found wide receiver Brevin Easton for an 83-yard score in the final minute of the first half. The moment encapsulated a dominating homecoming day that was headlined by the sophomore quarterback’s performance.
Reese Poffenbarger (left) and wide receiver Julian Hicks (right) share a laugh postgame.
Photo Credit: Philip Walsh / the ASP
Poffenbarger carved up Rhode Island’s defense through the first 30 minutes, easily finding gaps in zone coverage and taking advantage of receiver matchups in man-to-man. His numbers through two quarters were astounding, going 14-18 for three touchdowns and 310 yards, 102 shy of UAlbany’s single game record which he set last year at Fordham.
Poffenbarger feels that prolonged injuries to wide receivers Roy Alexander and Jackson Parker has motivated him to develop the right chemistry with his other targets. “I've been able to connect with them more,” he said. “I just got to put the ball on spot for them to make a play.”
Poffenbarger only threw for 14 yards in the second half, but he added on a fourth touchdown with 12:43 left in the game, rolling out to find tight end Ian Renninger from four yards out, pushing UAlbany’s lead to 35-3.
His one mistake came less than three minutes into the second, throwing an interception on a screen pass just outside of the red zone. He obviously rebounded from there. “[If] I'm gonna sit there and be pissed off about an interception, it's gonna hurt our team,” he said.
No receiver benefited more from one-on-one matchups than Julian Hicks, who finished with 188 yards and two receiving touchdowns on seven receptions, all in the opening half. His most impressive catch came on a bomb to midfield from Poffenbarger, before Hicks broke a tackle and took it all the way for an 85-yard score.
“Reese, he’s just helped me tremendously just put confidence in me every day, and the coaches [are] putting confidence in me every day,” Hicks said.
This followed a career day for Hicks just a week prior at New Hampshire, where he racked up 164 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 75 yards. “I just feel like after any receiver has over 150 yards in any game you will try to count for him,” he said, having been single-covered for the great majority of Saturday.
Griffin Woodell’s success continued as the starting running back, with a 44-yard rush on the game’s opening drive being punctuated by a two-yard touchdown on the following play, three minutes into the game. He exited late in the third quarter with 115 yards on 16 carries. In relief, Faysal Aden ran for 100 yards on 17 carries.
“I'm very pleased [because] we have to run the ball, we have to be able to take time off the clock,” head coach Greg Gattuso said. “Once we scored the last touchdown, we felt really comfortable grinding it out and getting out of there.” He also acknowledged the offensive line’s efforts, who consistently set blocks for Woodell and Aden, calling it a “good effort up front.”
Rhode Island quarterback Kasim Hill, who came into Saturday second in the FCS in passing yards with 2027, wasn’t himself after getting hit by edge rusher Anton Juncaj in the first quarter – a play which drew a roughing the passer foul. Frequently off-target and under duress, Hill finished the day with no passing touchdowns, two interceptions, and 261 yards on 29-50 passing.
The defense’s dominance of Rhode Island followed a rough outing the week prior at New Hampshire, where they gave up 341 passing yards to Wildcats quarterback Max Brosmer in a 38-31 loss.
UAlbany now sits at 5-3 overall and 3-1 in conference, still undefeated at home. Across their three contests at Bob Ford Field, the Great Danes have outscored opponents by an average of 22.3 points-per-game.