The Albany Conquest’s best combination on Friday night wasn’t quarterback Dan Cole and one of his receivers, it was linebacker Michael Lewis and defensive back Vernard Abrams.
They started and finished two important sack-fumble recovery sequences in the first half, and made more big defensive plays in the second half as the Conquest beat the Daytona Beach ThunderBirds, 59-49, at the Times Union Center to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The victory also stopped a seven-game losing streak for the Conquest (4-8), who had lost to Daytona Beach (2-10) in the second game of the skid.
“Have you ever had a 5,000-pound weight on your chest? That’s what it felt like,” Conquest head coach Jeff Hoffman said. “I know we’re capable of a lot, and I expect a lot. Tonight, we finally turned around and did what we’re supposed to do.”
That included not wasting turnovers.
Each time Lewis hammered Daytona Beach quarterback Matt Bohnet and knocked the ball loose in the first half, Abrams was on the spot to pick up the pieces.
Both times, Albany went on to get important field goals, including one on the final play of the first half that pulled the Conquest within 28-27.
In the third quarter, Lewis pressured Bohnet into an intentional grounding penalty to set up a
defensive stop with the ThunderBirds backed up to their own goalline, and Abrams had an interception early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown pass from Cole to Jared Jones to give the Conquest a 46-35 lead.
Colonie High graduate R.J.
Harvey, playing in his first game for Albany since 2006, scored what proved to be the clinching touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Cole that made it 53-35 with 5:09 left.
It was Lewis and Abrams, who has been one of Albany’s most consistent receivers all season and rarely contributes much on defense, who put them in position to do that.
“We had R.J. come in and play a little offense today, so I was able to split time and play offense and defense with a little bit fresher legs, and I really think that helped me today,” Abrams said.
“He doesn’t ever complain, he just does his job. I guess he’s the epitome of what I was looking for, the lunchpail guy,” Hoffman said.
With the score tied, 14-14, Daytona Beach drove to the Albany 19, but Lewis sacked Bohnet, and Abrams recovered, leading to a 28-yard field goal by Carlos Ojeda and a 17-14
Albany was in jeopardy of trailing by at least 11 points at halftime, but came up with two big plays to get within 28-27 by the buzzer.
On third-and-10 from the Conquest 21 with a half-minute left, Cole was on the verge of getting dragged down from behind, but somehow shot putted the ball to a wide open Antwun Williams.
Williams leapt to barely tip the ball, then ran under it, caught it and raced into the end zone with 25.1 seconds left.
“Those are the type of catches he’s been making his whole career,” Hoffman said. “Exciting? Yeah. Surprising? No.”
Then it was deja vu for Lewis and Abrams. Again from the Conquest 19, Bohnet was sacked by Lewis, and Abrams came up with it with 3.3 seconds left.
Ojeda made the 42-yarder as time expired to make it 28-27.
“I kind of saw Mike closing in on the QB, and I know every time Mike gets his hands on the QB, the ball can pop out, so I was just ready, watching the ball to see where it came out,” Abrams said. “It bounced my way.
“That was a game-changing point. Coach talks about three points in a game that can make a difference, and that was one of them.”
Daytona Beach went ahead,
35-27, right away in the second half after a fumble by newly signed fullback Kyle Acker, but the Conquest scored the next three touchdowns and were never threatened after Harvey’s TD made it 53-35.
Cole had tried to go to the speedy Harvey three times in the first half, but something went haywire each time and he never got his hands on the ball until his score.
“I felt like I was open, and it felt good to be back on the field,”
Harvey said. “The timing with me and Dan isn’t there just because of lack of practice time.
“As a team, we were talking about how we really wanted to finish them and build on what we did in the third quarter. I was proud of how the team finished today and glad I could come in and provide a little spark.”
That series was created by Abrams’ interception. No one was open on the left side of the field, so Bohnet turned back to the right and tried to loft one to Lamar Hughes, but Abrams leapt and snared it.
Daytona Beach 7 21 7 14 —49
Albany 7 20 13 19 —59
A — Cole 7 run (Ojeda kick), 8:25.
DB — Rouzard 5 pass from Bohnet (Adams kick), :35.
DB – Coach kickoff recovery in end zone (Adams kick), 13:45.
A — Acker 11 run (Ojeda kick), 12:15.
A — Ojeda 28 FG, 6:45.
DB — Hughes 55 kickoff return (Adams kick), 6:29.
DB — Grier 30 pass from Bohnet (Adams kick), 2:09.
A — Williams 29 pass from Cole (Ojeda kick), :26.
A –Ojeda 42 FG, :00.
DB — Bohnet 3 run (Adams kick), 12:04.
A — Sullivan 2 pass from Cole (Ojeda kick), 8:32.
A —Cole 1 run (kick failed), :01.
A —Jones 7 pass from Cole (kick failed), 8:51.
A — Harvey 16 pass from Cole (Ojeda kick), 5:09.
DB —Rouzard 16 pass from Bohnet (kick failed), :36.
A —Williams 13 pass from Cole (kick failed), :19.
DB —Hughes 8 pass from Bohnet (Rouzard pass from Bohnet), :02.
First downs — DB 19, Alb 23; Rushing — DB 6-15, Alb 9-34; Passing — DB 22-38-2-287, Alb 19-34-1-203; Total offense — DB 46-302, Alb 46-237; Fumbles-lost — DB 2-2, Alb 3-2; Penalties — DB 8-71, Alb 5-57; Kickoff returns — DB 5-120, Alb 5-119; Sacks by — DB 3-13, Alb 2-19.
DB — Grier 2-6, Jackson 2-5, Bohnet 1-3, Rouzard 1-1. Alb — Cole 4-16, Acker 3-11, Williams 1-4, Harvey 1-3.
DB — Bohnet 22-38-2-306. Alb — Cole 19-34-1-216.
DB — Rouzard 10-143, Rutledge 6-58, Grier 5-97, Hughes 1-8. Alb — Williams 8-103, Jones 7-76, Abrams 2-19, Harvey 1-16, Sullivan 1-2.
Attendance — 3,690.
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