ALBANY — The last time fans watched a UAlbany football game from inside the confines of Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, it came on one of the high-water marks in Great Danes program history, the team’s first-ever NCAA FCS playoff win against Central Connecticut on Nov. 30, 2019.
A little less than 22 months later, and the gates are set to open back up Saturday at 7 p.m. as UAlbany hosts its CAA opener against Rhode Island.
“It’s very exciting,” UAlbany senior running back Karl Mofor said, “to know that our fans are going to be back, and our families, to see us play on our home turf and defend it.”
While Saturday’s game marks the return of football fans to Casey Stadium, it’s UAlbany’s second home opener against Rhode Island in less than six months.
The Great Danes also played their first home game of their rescheduled spring season — when fans were barred from attendance due to restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic — against the Rams, losing 17-10 in overtime on March 20 in a game where the only in-person spectators were a few dozen scattered in a few socially-distanced lawn chairs on the grassy area behind the scoreboard and just outside the stadium fence.
“Last spring, you could hear a penny drop in here,” linebacker Jackson Ambush said. “It was dead silent.”
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso, whose team dropped its season opener 28-6 last Saturday to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, is hopeful that the return of fans will also lead to a spike in attendance.
“I hope they’re coming,” Gattuso said of the fans. “I don’t have any idea what to expect. I’m praying we get a big crowd. I know it’s been around the country that a lot of places have had big [crowds]. Rhode Island had the biggest crowd they’ve ever had for their game last week. We’re hoping are fans are going to come out and support us.”
The Great Danes averaged 4,516 fans during the 2018 season, and 4,191 during the 2019 regular season.
Gattuso said he’s optimistic the program can build momentum in the community, even after the pandemic took away a season’s worth of attendance when the team was coming off its historic 9-5 2019 campaign.
“The COVID stuff kind of hurts, where you have your biggest year in school history, basically, and then you sit around on your butt for 18 months,” he said. “It kind of takes that steam away.
“The best thing we can do is start winning games to get people back out.”
TIGHTENING THINGS UP
To get back on track in a crucial early-season game against a Rhode Island team that’s coming off an impressive 45-21 non-conference win over Bryant in Week 1, Mofor said that UAlbany simply needs to be sharper than it was at North Dakota State.
“We just need to get better with the basic things that we do well,” he said. “Protect the ball, take away the ball, win the line of scrimmage and win the big-play battle. We win those things, we’ll be OK.”
The turnover battle should prove crucial. Overall, UAlbany has lost four straight games since winning its spring opener against New Hampshire, and the Great Danes came up on the wrong end in the turnover category in the last three of those setbacks.
In those losses — to Rhode Island, Stony Brook and NDSU — UAlbany is minus-8 in the turnover department, with 10 giveaways compared to just two takeaways.
Against NDSU, UAlbany turned the ball over three times, all of which led to touchdown drives from the Bison.
“The turnovers are killing us,” Gattuso said. “We’ve lost three games that have all been turnover-driven. That’s got to stop, and it won’t stop until we start protecting the football.”
In a new move for 2021, all UAlbany football tickets will be distributed by mobile delivery, with no physical ticket books for season ticket holders. Print-at-home PDF tickets will remain available for fans who prefer a physical ticket option.
Also new this season, fans have the option to purchase parking tickets in advance to cut down on wait times on gameday by visiting https://www.ticketreturn.com/prod2/BuyClear.asp?EventID=321305&continue=buynew.asp#.YTurp1VKiUm.