ALBANY — Just as it did a year ago against William & Mary, things started to go wrong for the University at Albany football team at the wrong time.
Last year, that meant the Great Danes suffered a loss they never really got over, one that sent them on their way to a season-crushing six-game losing streak.
Adversity arrived, and the Great Danes didn’t fold.
“It was a great step in the right direction,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said after his team earned a 39-31 victory Saturday against William & Mary, a team that last year beat the Great Danes 25-22 after trailing them 22-10 in the fourth quarter.
After struggling to finish drives for most of the first three quarters of its CAA opener at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, UAlbany scored three touchdowns — and the last of redshirt junior Dylan Burns’ program-record four field goals — in a span of 15:11 that left it ahead 39-24 with 1:44 to go.
Then, things turned.
With backup Kilton Anderson at quarterback, William & Mary needed only one play from scrimmage to score a touchdown — and, after that 83-yard scoring pass to freshman Kane Everson, William & Mary recovered its onside kick with 1:24 to go.
“They did a goofy kick and it was a weird roll, and our kids were waiting for it to go 10 [yards] because they were trying to be smart . . . [but] it was perfectly executed,” Gattuso said.
A few plays later, William & Mary was to the UAlbany 24-yard line — and that’s when the Great Danes fired back.
UAlbany redshirt senior defensive lineman Eli Mencer sacked Anderson on a second-down play, then — after a spike on third down to stop the clock — UAlbany fifth-year senior defensive back Josh Wynn intercepted a desperation pass in the end zone as time expired. The interception was Wynn’s second of the game for a UAlbany defense that forced four turnovers.
“After they got that onside kick, we came together as a defense, rather than shouting at each other and folding,” said Mencer, who also recovered a fumble to set up one of UAlbany’s fourth-quarter touchdowns. “We stuck together, and we knew we trusted each other.”
“We fought from the first play to the last play,” said UAlbany redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, who was 27 of 44 passing for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
In front of an announced crowd of 3,329, UAlbany (1-0, 3-2) never led William & Mary (0-1, 2-3) until the fourth quarter. After William & Mary freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis rushed for a 56-yard touchdown to put his team ahead 24-15 midway through the third quarter, though, UAlbany responded with the game’s next 24 points.
Undercuffler passed for a pair of touchdowns during that 24-0 run, while junior running back Karl Mofor added a short touchdown rush to close a 13-play drive that went 82 yards and took 7:17.
“We gave up some points and some big plays, and we were able to recover from that by generating some turnovers and some big plays of our own,” Gattuso said.
After a slow start, Mofor finished with 95 rushing yards on 24 carries, plus 53 yards on four receptions. Senior wide receivers Juwan Green and Jerah Reeves, and redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski caught touchdown passes for the Great Danes, while Burns made field goals from 25, 27, 42 and 43 yards.
Saturday’s game served as UAlbany’s “Pink Game” in support of the American Cancer Society.
Next up for UAlbany is back-to-back road games against Richmond and Towson. Richmond is 1-3 this year after losing Saturday to Fordham, while Towson is 3-2 after losing to Florida this weekend. The Great Danes haven’t won a road game since winning 26-0 against Morgan State on Sept. 9, 2017.
Gattuso said he’s told his players “you earn confidence,” and liked the way his team carried itself during Saturday’s contest.
“I think we’re starting to play that way,” said Gattuso, whose program is above .500 for the first time since early in the 2017 season. “There were lots of points in the game where it looked like it was bad for us, but they kept fighting through.”
William & Mary 14 3 7 7 — 31
UAlbany 3 9 10 17 — 39
W&M — Funderburke 9 run (Johnston kick)
UA — Burns 43 field goal
W&M — Yoder 98 kick return (Johnston kick)
UA — Reeves 15 pass from Undercuffler (Kick failed)
W&M — Hooper 54 field goal
UA — Burns 42 field goal
UA — Burns 25 field goal
W&M — Mathis 56 run (Johnston kick)
UA — Wesneski 10 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Burns 27 field goal
UA — Green 7 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Mofor 6 run (Burns kick)
W&M — Everson 83 pass from Anderson (Johnston kick)