ALBANY — The Great Danes looked outmatched for nearly all of Saturday’s first half, the UAlbany football program’s first action in the FCS playoffs since 2011.
Then, redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler got going and UAlbany started rolling.
“In the second half,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said, “it just was a storm.”
Undercuffler passed for one touchdown right before halftime, four more in the third quarter and one last score in the fourth as part of a record-setting day that saw the Great Danes top Central Connecticut 42-14 for their first-ever FCS postseason win.
Undercuffler, who set program records during the regular season for touchdown passes and passing yards, started slow Saturday at Casey Stadium. After completing 7 of 16 passes for 62 yards with an interception, though, Undercuffler completed his next 11 passes for 232 yards and five touchdowns as the No. 25 Great Danes ran past No. 17 Central Connecticut.
“We just weren’t executing as an offense in the first quarter. I made a couple bad plays,” Undercuffler said. “That’s on me, but you’ve just got to have that next-play mentality and just keep grinding.”
The degree to which Undercuffler possesses that “next-play mentality,” Gattuso said, is what makes him special.
“He can play poorly for a while. It never affects him,” Gattuso said. “That’s ultimately the true sign of a great quarterback, to me. Things cannot go his way [and] he never blinks. He never gets upset.”
Undercuffler’s six total touchdown passes set a new single-game record for the program and came during an outing in which he was 19 of 30 passing overall for 304 yards. He now has 39 TD passes on the season, eclipsing the FCS record for a freshman set by Northern Arizona's Case Cookus (37) in 2015.
Senior Juwan Green was the lone UAlbany player with two touchdown receptions, while Undercuffler’s other scoring passes went to senior Jerah Reeves, junior Karl Mofor, redshirt freshman Tyler Oedekoven and redshirt junior LJ Wesneski.
With the win against Central Connecticut (11-2), UAlbany (9-4) advanced to play fifth-seeded Montana State next weekend in the postseason’s second round. Saturday’s win was the sixth in seven tries this season for UAlbany at Casey Stadium, but a season-low crowd of 1,660 was announced as the afternoon’s attendance.
“We have great fans,” Gattuso said. “We just need more of them.”
Those who turned out Saturday saw a UAlbany team that found a way to keep itself in the game before Undercuffler started connecting with one teammate after another. Central Connecticut, coached by former UAlbany coaching staff member Ryan McCarthy, outdid the Great Danes 207-102 in the first half in total yards and 11-5 in first downs gained. Central Connecticut had a 7-0 lead for most of the first half, too, before UAlbany scored on a pass to Green with 17 seconds left in the second quarter.
“The energy was there, but we just needed to calm down, settle in and just play . . . our game,” Green said.
He added: “Once Jeff settled in, he got us all focused, and we just settled in and we just executed.”
Green scored his second touchdown 24 seconds into the second half. From there, Central Connecticut couldn’t find any answers for the Great Danes, who finished in second place in the CAA this season.
“You don’t go through the CAA the way they did and not be a good football team,” McCarthy said.
Before a touchdown run from Central Connecticut senior quarterback Aaron Winchester with four minutes into the fourth quarter, UAlbany scored 42 unanswered points starting with its touchdown right before halftime.
For the game, UAlbany outgained Central Connecticut 404-347. Both starting quarterbacks threw an interception, while Central Connecticut also missed a pair of field goals.
Reeves led UAlbany's receivers with 134 yards on six receptions, while Green had 105 yards on seven receptions.
The victory improved UAlbany’s winning streak to four games.
“Right now, we have the world in front of us,” Undercuffler said. “We’re playing great football — and we’re going to Montana.”
Central Connecticut 7 0 0 7 — 14
UAlbany 0 7 28 7 — 42
CC — Zidor 31 pass from Winchester (Zoppi kick)
UA — Green 12 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Green 40 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Reeves 33 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Wesneski 11 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Oedekoven 9 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
UA — Mofor 10 pass from Undercuffler (Burns kick)
CC — Winchester 4 run (Zoppi kick)