ALBANY — University at Albany football coaches had a premonition that redshirt junior safety Hayden Specht was going to collect his first career interception during Saturday’s must-win Colonial Athletic Association matchup with the University of New Hampshire.
The 5-foot-7, 185-pound Specht delivered in a big way, picking off Max Brosmer’s pass on a key fourth-and-10 from the UAlbany 23 with less than four minutes remaining to help the Great Danes hold off the Wildcats 24-17 before a crowd of 2,486 at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
The win boosted UAlbany’s record to 5-2 in the CAA, 7-4 overall, and kept the Great Danes’ alive for a FCS playoff berth. UNH dropped to 4-3 in the CAA and 5-5 overall. The Great Danes close out the regular season at arch-rival Stony Brook next Saturday.
UAlbany was holding onto its precarious touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter when senior Donovan McDonald fumbled a punt return at his own 23-yard line. But the UAlbany defense did not panic. Brosmer threw a pair of incomplete passes, as well as a short dink to running back Dylan Laube, before dropping back and looking toward the end zone for what would have been a game-tying TD pass.
Specht darted in front of tight end Ryan Finney to make the pick, saving the Great Danes from self destruction.
UAlbany had to punt the ball away a minute later, but the Great Danes made another stellar defensive play, when defensive lineman Andrew Lang sacked Brosmer on a fourth-and-6 from the UNH 24 to seal the win.
“We were in 3-deep coverage, and I was reading the cues and working the field,” Specht said about his big interception. “He just threw it up, and I made a big play. It’s something we worked on. I just happened to be in the right spot. I was told all week by the coaches that I was going to get my first career interception this week, and getting it in this way feels awesome.”
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso was thrilled that Specht made the big play when needed.
“He’s played his tail off since the day he got here for us,” Gattuso said. “He’s not the biggest cat out there, but he’s a hard-nosed guy.”
The Great Danes didn’t have as much success as they usually do through the air, but junior running back Karl Mofor picked up the slack, rushing for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
“I just did what I had to do,” Mofor said. “I just stayed focused. I don’t feel anything right now, but tomorrow I might feel it,” he said. “I just feel like this is the result of what we’ve been doing since January. It’s just amazing to be in this position.”
Although Mofor was a workhorse on the ground, the Great Danes snapped a 17-17 tie with a clutch passing effort, as redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler hit a wide-open Tyler Oedekoven with a 32-yard scoring pass with 8:01 left in the game.
“He was wide open,” Undercuffler said. “In that situation as a quarterback, you see a guy that wide open, and you don’t want to lead him too much. He made a nice catch.”
Undercuffler completed 16 of 27 passes for 199 yards. He’s now the program’s all-time single-season passing yardage leader with 2,783.
Gattuso pointed out that his Great Danes won despite not clicking on all cylinders.
“It’s a great win for us,” he said. “As they say in baseball, we didn’t have our fastball today. Credit New Hampshire. They did some good things against us. Ultimately, we were able to battle through and survive a tough turnover again. Our defense played really well in the second half.
“It wasn’t an easy game to play. The sun was out, but it was very cold out there. Our defense played tough and physical.”
Mofor gave UAlbany a 7-0 lead midway through the opening quarter with a 6-yard scoring run, but the Wildcats bounced back on their next possession with a 1-yard TD run by Evan Gray.
UNH took a 14-7 advantage on Brosmer’s 14-yard TD run to cap a 78-yard, 11-play drive in the second quarter, but the Great Danes knotted the score on Mofor’s 16-yard run before Dylan Burns kicked a 24-yard field goal to give UAlbany a 17-14 lead at the intermission.
The Wildcats used up 8:02 on the clock during a 15-play, 49-yard drive in the fourth quarter to knot the score at 17-17 on Jason Hughes’ 34-yard field goal.
After UAlbany took the lead for good on the Undercuffler TD toss to Oedekoven, the Great Danes appeared to be in excellent shape before McDonald’s fumbled punt return. Gattuso liked how his team regrouped.
“First of all, I take the blame for that, because D-Mac was hurt, and I probably should have taken him out. I’ve been around long enough that you don’t put an injured guy in some situations,” Gattuso said.
“But regrouping is what we do. We live and breathe with our defense, and we practice sudden changes in momentum like that all the time. We were still OK. There was no panic. We do drill work for those sudden changes all the time. Our situational defense really fought hard. We really wanted this game.
“We’ve got a good chance to be second by ourselves in the conference going into next week. We certainly understand this game coming up. It’s flipped from what it was last year, when we upset Stony Brook here. We can’t afford to be upset. We control our own destiny. If we get to eight wins and we are 6-2 in the conference, you deserve a shot to get into the playoffs. But we’ve got to go out and win a game. These rivalry games are a pain in the butt.”
New Hampshire 7 7 0 3 — 17
UAlbany 7 10 0 7 — 24
UA — Mofor 6 run (Burns kick)
UNH– Gray 1 run (Hughes kick)
UNH — Brosmer 14 run (Hughes kick)
UA — Mofor 16 run (Burns kick)
UA — Burns 24 FG
UNH — Hughes 34 FG
UA — Oedekoven 32 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)