Credit: China Wong
By: Edwards Kemedjio | March 6 2021
The University at Albany Great Danes took the field against the #14 New Hampshire Wildcats on Friday, in their first game of the shortened spring season and came out on top by a score of 24-20. After having their season postponed by COVID-19, the Great Danes took the field for the first time in over 450 days and handed New Hampshire their second loss in their last 16 home openers.
UAlbany came into the game attempting to build on a fantastic 2019 campaign that included the program’s first ever FCS playoff win. The team returns Second Team All-American quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, star running back Karl Mofor and preseason All American linebacker Levi Metheny.
With the dismissal of Dev Holmes earlier in the week, the Great Danes found themselves Friday taking the field with a receiving core that few would recognize if they watched the team last year. Leading receivers Juwan Green, who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons, and Jerah Reeves accounted for 65% of the air yards in last year’s record-breaking passing attack, both of them have graduated out of the program. Jeff Undercuffler took the field with redshirt sophomore Tyler Oedekoven as his leading pass catcher from last year.
The young receiving core stepped up, however and in a big way. With the UNH defense selling out to stop the rushing attack by Karl Mofor, who had 28 carries for 79 yards, the pressure was on the receivers to make plays down the field. Oedekoven and fellow freshman Mike Grey combined for 17 catches, 155 yards, and two touchdowns.
“We knew that we lost a lot of guys last year,” said Undercuffler after the game. “But they did a great job learning the offense and all the intricacies that we have here”
Both teams put together long drives to open the game. New Hampshire started their season with a 14 play, 68-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a four-yard touchdown reception by Sean Coyne. The Great Danes responded with a long drive of their own, tying the game after going 75 yards in 14 plays to score.
Special teams played a major role in the Friday night showdown, with each team making major plays. Neither team had broken the tie in the second quarter when UNH blocked a Sean Ralls punt attempt and recovered it in the end zone for the score.
“You know blocked kicks are always turning points in games. They always come back to haunt you,” said Head Coach Greg Gattuso. “It was a mistake we shouldn’t have made.”
A strong third quarter that featured a quick passing attack led to 14 points for UAlbany, and they entered the fourth quarter with a healthy lead.
The Great Danes seemed to be in control of the game, but an Undercuffler fumble allowed the Wildcats to get back into the game. UNH capitalized two plays later with a touchdown. UAlbany’s special teams came through and blocked the extra point, which kept the game from being tied with a field goal.
“We’d still be playing if we didn’t get that blocked extra point,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnel. “It would have been a field goal instead of worrying about a touchdown.”
The game seemed to be in hand with a minute left, but freshman punter Sean Ralls nightmare debut continued when he dropped the snap and attempted to kick the ball after it bounced off the turf twice. This was an illegal kick and a loss of down, so suddenly the Wildcats were set up at the seven-yard line needing a touchdown to win the game.
The Great Danes defense, which had played their best football in a long time, held firm once again. They got their third red zone stop of the game and sealed the victory for the Great Danes to start their 2021 spring campaign.
“Bend don’t break,” said defensive lineman Mazon Walker. “We already knew we had to clock in. When we finally clocked in, I can’t even describe the feeling.”
Jeff Undercuffler was the player of the game. The CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year picked up right where he left off and threw for nearly 200 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The UAlbany Great Danes improved to 1-0 and will face the Blackbears of Maine on the road next Saturday.