University at Albany quarterback Vinny Esposito and his receiving corps felt disrespected by the Bryant Bulldogs.
When Bryant bottled up the Great Danes’ bread-and-butter rushing attack in the first half, the Danes put on an aerial show in the final 30 minutes and avoided a huge upset with a 20-17 Northeast Conference victory Saturday at University Field.
Esposito completed 25 of 32 passes for 280 yards and two scores, Tim Bush (Saratoga Springs) tied the school’s Division I FCS record with 10 receptions for 135 yards and wideout Jason Poore caught eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown to lead the Great Danes’ attack.
Poore, a 6-foot-6 junior from North Hoosick, also recovered a Bryant onside kick attempt to seal the victory.
The Great Danes extended the nation’s longest Division I FCS conference winning streak to 17 and improved their home winning streak to 12, but they didn’t expect Bryant, a first-year conference member, to be so effective at shutting down their vaunted rushing game. Although senior tailback Dave McCarty (LaSalle) finished with 118 yards, he ran the ball 38 times and had to work for every yard.
“I think we expected them to be a good team, but we didn’t expect them to be quite as good against the run,” said UAlbany head coach Bob Ford of the 2-1, 3-3 Bulldogs. “They took away the run in the first half, and made us pass the ball.”
“We felt a little disrespected,” said Esposito. “That team came in and put eight players in the box, and dared us to pass. It was nice to open it up for a change. We’ve been frustrated at times this year because we’ve moved the football and didn’t always score a lot of points. I think we rectified that in the second half.”
“Vinny plays better when he doesn’t think,” said Bush with a smile. “Once he got his tempo, he started throwing the ball very well.”
After a low-scoring first half, the Danes (4-0 NEC, 5-2 overall) put together two scoring drives in the second half to put the game away.
Bryant held a 9-6 edge when a fumbled Bulldogs punt return was recovered by Jake Ciccarello on the 37-yard line to help the Danes take the lead for good.
On a fourth-and-eight play from the Bryant 35, the Danes thought about kicking the ball, but instead went for a deep pass. Esposito found Poore at about the 10-yard line, and he pulled several defenders with him before stretching out over the goal line for the score.
“I got hit, and I saw the goal line. I just stretched out to get there,” said Poore.
“Jason used his body and stretched out as far as he could. We’re lucky to have big receivers like Jason,” said Esposito.
The Danes padded their lead to 20-9 when Esposito rolled right and found Andrew Smith for a five-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But a blocked punt, giving the Bulldogs the ball on the Albany 44-yard line, helped Bryant cut its deficit to three points.
Jerrel Smith busted off tackle for a three-yard scoring run, and Michael Croce hit Tim Mastrino with a two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs hope with 3:13 remaining.
That’s when Poore recovered the onside kick, and Albany took over on the Bryant 40. The Danes were able to hold onto the ball until there were only five seconds left, leaving only enough time for Croce to hit James Mullane with a 21-yard pass as the game ended.
Both offenses struggled in the first half, although the Danes dominated the statistics. Aaron Bryant blocked an Albany punt early in the second quarter to set up Bryant’s first score, a 27-yard field goal by Chris Bird.
The Danes tied the score on a 39-yard field goal by Herb Glass with 8:34 left in the half.
Albany then took a 6-3 lead on another Glass field goal, this time from 19 yards.
Albany had a chance to score just before the half, but Glass’ 33-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.
Bryant took a 9-6 lead on a fake end-round, option pass from Vinton South to Mike Canfora that went for a 13-yard TD with 11:53 left in the third quarter.
Smith, who came into the game as one of Bryant’s all-time leading rushers, was held to 44 yards on 14 carries. The Danes’ cause was also aided by five sacks.
“It was a good win,” said Ford. “We probably needed a game like this when you have to battle your [butts] off. Let’s get out of Dodge.”
Bryant 0 3 6 8 — 17
Albany 0 6 7 7 — 20
B — Bird 27 FG.
A — Glass 39 FG.
A — Glass 19 FG.
B — South, 13 pass from Canfora (kick blocked).
A — Poore 34 pass from Esposito (Glass kick).
A — Smith 5 pass from Esposito (Glass kick).
B — Smith 2 run (Mastrino pass from Croce).
First downs 15`/22
Passing yards 247/280
Return yards 9/32