Danny Damico’s assessment was blunt.
“We’re a great defense,” the UAlbany football redshirt senior linebacker said during a teleconference with reporters following Saturday’s 38-34 loss to Maine, “and we played like an average team today.”
It was an unholy trifecta that did in the Great Danes in their trip to Orono, Maine — penalties, mental errors and big plays from Maine.
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso chalked up the shootout loss to a “complete lack of discipline on defense.”
“A lot of the plays that hurt us,” Gattuso said, “were things that we should’ve been able to play better. It’s disappointing. We’ve got to go home, regroup and get better, and find a way to fix the lack of discipline that we usually don’t play with.”
Maine quarterback Joe Fagnano threw for 249 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 51 yards and a touchdown as the Black Bears’ leading rusher.
The bulk of the damage done by the Maine offense came through wide receiver Andre Miller, who torched UAlbany’s defense to the tune of eight catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns — which came on three straight Maine possessions in the third and fourth quarters.
Containing Miller — who caught a 90-yard touchdown pass against UAlbany during Maine’s 47-31 win at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium in 2019 — was a focal point for the Great Danes (1-1 CAA, 1-1 overall) in their preparation for Saturday.
“We knew he had to be the guy that couldn’t beat us, and we gave him the opportunities,” Gattuso said. “It’s unacceptable. . . . We let him make big play after big play on us.”
All three of Miller’s touchdown receptions gave Maine the lead in a see-saw second half that saw the teams trade six consecutive scoring drives before UAlbany was stopped on a three-and-out, punted the ball away with 2:55 to play and never got the ball back.
The loss spoiled a huge game for UAlbany senior running back Karl Mofor, who carried the ball 30 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns after the Great Danes’ running game struggled to find traction in its 24-20 Week 1 win at New Hampshire.
“It’s always disappointing when you feel like you can’t help your team towards the end of the game to come out with it,” Mofor said. “We just have to be better on our other drives. It shouldn’t come down to the last drive.”
UAlbany redshirt quarterback Jeff Undercuffler threw for 147 yards with touchdown passes to Mike Gray, but was just 14 of 36 through the air as the passing game dealt with swirling winds at Alfond Stadium throughout the afternoon.
But, even as UAlbany’s offense strung together scoring drives, the team’s momentum was sapped at crucial moments throughout the game.
During the second quarter, errors set the stage for 10 Maine points as the Black Bears (1-1, 1-1) turned what had been a 10-0 deficit into a 17-point run.
With Maine driving down 10-7, UAlbany safety Hayden Specht forced Fagnano to fumble inside the UAlbany 10-yard line, but no Great Danes player was there to pounce on the loose ball. Tavion Banks recovered for Maine, and two plays later, Fagnano found Jacob Hennie in the back of the end zone for a touchdown — one of several big plays for Maine that occurred on a free play after UAlbany’s defense jumped offsides.
Then, on UAlbany’s ensuing possession, the Great Danes went three-and-out. When Sean Ralls came on to punt, the snap bounced in front of him, and Ralls went down to one knee while fielding the ball, giving Maine the ball at the UAlbany 17 to set up a field goal.
It was the third major error for the UAlbany punt team in two games, after a blocked punt for a touchdown and a dropped snap that led to an illegal kicking penalty eight days earlier against New Hampshire.
“Those 10 points are the difference in games,” Gattuso said of the result of those gaffes. “We can’t have those kinds of mistakes. Those little mistakes, as crazy as it sounds, can really add up in a game, and those are the kind of mistakes we were making.”
Then, there were the penalties.
Each team was flagged 12 times — “That’s a lot,” Gattuso said pointedly — and the Great Danes had a number of other calls against them that weren’t accepted.
So many of the calls came at momentum-sapping moments.
“It’s just being undisciplined,” Damico said, “a lack of focus when it needs to be present. We’ll just come back next week and keep discipline in the game, make sure you’re not listening to the snap count and watching the ball.”
Down 17-13 at the half, UAlbany took the lead early in the third quarter when Mazon Walker blocked a field goal attempt by Maine’s Jonny Messina and Damico returned the loose ball 42 yards to the Maine 21, setting up Undercuffler’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Gray two plays later.
But, the UAlbany defense couldn’t manage another stop, with three-straight Fagnano-to-Miller touchdown passes helping Maine outpace UAlbany down the stretch before Fagnano converted a third-and-3 with on an option keeper in the final two minutes to allow Maine to kneel out the clock and clinch its sixth straight win in the series, forcing the Great Danes to spend the long bus ride back to Albany stewing as they attempt to right the ship next Saturday in their home opener against Rhode Island.
“Traveling seven-and-a-half hours to play Maine and going home with a loss, man, it’s the worst thing in the world,” Damico said. Everybody’s going to definitely take this to heart. After this long drive home, we can all have enough time to think about it.
“We’ll remember how this feels. We don’t want to do it again.”