ALBANY — At halftime, UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso kept his message to the point with his players.
“We’re going to know who we are after this game with how we play in the second half,” Gattuso said.
A couple quarters later, UAlbany had its answer — and it was a good one.
After a sluggish first half Saturday in which the UAlbany offense struggled and its defense couldn’t make any game-changing plays, the Great Danes dominated Rhode Island in the third quarter on their way to securing a come-from-behind 35-28 CAA victory.
“I think the biggest thing that we showed,” UAlbany redshirt senior defensive lineman Eli Mencer said, “was resilience.”
Down 14-6 at halftime in front of a homecoming crowd of 7,763 at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, UAlbany (3-1, 5-3) took control against Rhode Island (0-4, 1-6) right after halftime. Rhode Island committed four turnovers in the third quarter, and UAlbany turned three of them into 22 points.
UAlbany’s big plays started right away after halftime, as a Mencer sack a couple minutes into the third quarter forced a fumble that fifth-year senior Nick Griffin recovered and took 55 yards for a touchdown.
“I was making sure I didn’t fumble,” Griffin said of focus during his long run, on which he became the fourth UAlbany defensive player this season to score a touchdown.
Rhode Island fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which redshirt junior defensive back Alex Badine recovered. Shortly after, redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler found redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski for a go-ahead touchdown.
Rhode Island tied it late in the third quarter with a touchdown of its own, but UAlbany answered with another touchdown pass from Undercuffler to Wesneski that followed an interception from senior defensive back Tyler Carswell.
In the fourth quarter, Undercuffler connected with senior Juwan Green for a touchdown, while Rhode Island answered with a score with 4:31 to go to make it 35-28. From there, though, UAlbany drained the clock with a drive that saw junior running back Karl Mofor pick up a couple key first downs on third-and-2 carries as UAlbany sealed a win that moved it into a tie for second place in the CAA.
For the game, Rhode Island had 464 yards of total offense, while UAlbany only had 266. Undercuffler was 10 of 26 passing for 140 yards and four touchdowns.
“Football’s a crazy and wacky game,” Undercuffler said. “If you look at our offensive stats, they’re weird.”
“At the end of the day, you look at the scoreboard and we came out victorious,” Undercuffler said, “so that’s really all that matters.”
Likely the most “crazy and wacky” aspect to Saturday’s game: Before committing four turnovers in the third quarter, Rhode Island had only five turnovers on the season.
Before halftime, though, UAlbany’s offense was the issue. Prior to a 62-yard touchdown from Undercuffler to Green for the senior’s first score of the day, the Great Danes had gained 73 yards on 26 plays. For the entire first half, UAlbany gained 141 yards and earned eight first downs, while Rhode Island collected 15 first downs and registered 254 yards.
Rhode Island started the game’s scoring with a 34-yard touchdown run from redshirt senior Zoe Bryant on a fourth-down play midway through the first quarter. After UAlbany pulled within 7-6 — redshirt junior Dylan Burns missed the point-after attempt following Green’s touchdown — Rhode Island scored again to lead 14-6 heading into halftime.
For the game, Green finished with five receptions for 91 yards and his two touchdowns, while Mofor had 101 rushing yards on 19 carries.
UAlbany now heads into its bye week, and it’s needed. The team had multiple starters miss Saturday’s game, and had several more key players leave action during the victory.
But UAlbany got a victory it needed, one that came a weekend after the Great Danes upset a top-10 team. After back-to-back losing seasons, UAlbany will come out of its bye still capable of chasing after a postseason berth — and, heading into its bye, the Great Danes answered what kind of team they can be this season.
“They showed me we have a chance now to compete,” Gattuso said.
After the bye, UAlbany plays Maine Nov. 2.
Rhode Island 7 7 7 7 — 28
Albany 0 6 22 7 — 35
R — Bryant 34 run (Carrick kick)
A — Green 62 pass from Undercuffler (Kick failed)
R — Priore 1 run (Carrick kick)
A — Griffin 55 fumble return (Green from Undercuffler)
A — Wesneski 13 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
R — Parker 4 pass from Priore (Carrick kick)
A — Wesneski 14 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
A — Green 10 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
R — Dorsey 2 pass from Priore (Carrick kick)