ALBANY — Only one football game remains in UAlbany’s regular season.
“And,” redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said, “we control our own destiny.”
Few, if any, outsiders would have believed that would be the case before this season started for the Great Danes. After back-to-back losing seasons, UAlbany was picked to finish in last place this year in the Colonial Athletic Association. When head coach Greg Gattuso said his team “for sure” could contend to be one of the nation’s 24 FCS teams to reach the postseason, it was easy to dismiss that notion as something the coach had to say when discussing his team’s outlook for the season.
But here are the Great Danes, set to face rival Stony Brook on the road at 2 p.m. Saturday looking to claim this year’s Golden Apple Trophy and an eighth win that nearly assures them a spot in this year’s postseason field. At 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the CAA, a win against Stony Brook (2-5, 5-6) guarantees UAlbany to finish alone in second place in the CAA and further bolsters its case to play a 13th game.
Even with a loss, UAlbany will finish no worse than tied for second place in the conference. But if the Great Danes fall back into a second-place tie — and five teams are 4-3 in league play — they might not like what they see when the FCS Playoff Selection Show airs on Sunday. Gattuso said earlier this season his program likely needed eight wins — perhaps, nine — to reach the postseason, and a 7-5 record leaves a lot to chance for the Great Danes, who have not made the FCS playoffs since 2011.
UAlbany redshirt junior tight end LJ Wesneski said the Great Danes knew they “needed” last week’s win against New Hampshire. The same is true for this weekend’s game, but for reasoning that goes beyond making sure UAlbany’s season continues beyond Saturday.
“We definitely need this win, but not for playoffs. It’s Stony Brook. It’s rivalry week,” Wesneski said. “We play for the Golden Apple, so this is a big game for the program.”
UAlbany ended last season’s campaign with a 25-23 win against Stony Brook, a victory the Great Danes sealed with a last-second field goal against a nationally ranked Seawolves team to snap a six-game losing streak. This season, it’s Stony Brook that enters the rivalry matchup with little momentum, as the Seawolves have lost their last three games.
Of Stony Brook’s six losses, half of them came in games decided by one possession. The Seawolves are a competitive squad, which is how UAlbany viewed itself last season when three of its eight losses were by five points or fewer.
“The big thing is, if you take a step back to last year, we didn’t have the best record, but we were in [nearly] every game we played,” Undercuffler said. “Every game in this conference comes down to the last six, seven minutes, and last year we couldn’t find any way to win any games. This year, we’re doing that.”
UAlbany has won its last two games. The Great Danes haven’t suffered back-to-back losses at any point this season, but they also haven’t won more than two consecutive games.
A first three-game winning streak of the year, though, should put UAlbany in position to seek a four-game winning streak the following weekend.
“We’ve made some growth this year,” Gattuso said. “We’ve had a really nice year — and we can have a great year if we can play a great game Saturday and get a win.”