Football Plays Lights Out In 35-7 Win Over Rhode Island
ALBANY, N.Y. – Racing to a 14-0 head start in the opening quarter, the University at Albany football team led the entire way, overcoming the visiting University of Rhode Island Rams, 35-7, Saturday evening at Bob Ford Field. With the home-opener triumph, the Great Danes improved to 1-1 on the season and 1-0 in the CAA, while the Rams fell to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
“It’s a great feeling to get a win at home, get a conference win, it’s just so valuable,” said Head Coach Greg Gattuso.
In their first drive, the Great Danes worked their way 82-yards down the field on 13 plays, capped by quarterback DJ Crook’s seven-yard keeper up the middle, giving UAlbany a 7-0 lead.
“Coach knew they had a good returner in the back, so we tried to do a little shorter kick and try and get it out of his hands,” said Merritt. “The guy came up and he didn’t make the play like he was supposed, so the ball was right there in front of me.”
Taking over on the URI-33, the Danes used eight plays to get across the goal line, ending with Crook’s eight-yard pass to the Josh Gontarek in the back left corner of the end zone. The touchdown gave UAlbany a 14-0 advantage with 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Neither squad was able to add to the scoreboard in the second stanza, but the Great Danes had a number of chances. The defense forced and recovered a pair of fumbles to take over possession, but the offense was unable to convert.
“I thought we had a chance to put them away in the second quarter,” said Gattuso. “We could have easily had another touchdown and field goal, but we didn’t let that bother us.”
With 6:09 remaining in the third quarter, the Great Danes stretched their advantage to 21-0 on Crook’s 17-yard pass to tight end Anthony Manzo-Lewis, marking the sophomore’s first career touchdown.
Even a 16-minute game delay due to a stadium lighting outage didn’t deter the Great Danes in the waning minutes of the third quarter. With a soaking rain falling from the sky, the defense recovered its fourth fumble of the game, this time by Jack Forster on the UAlbany seven-yard line to keep URI off the board.
In Rhode Island’s next drive, Merritt picked off Paul Mroz’s pass for a 42-yard return to the URI-17.
Looking to run down the clock, running back Elliott Croskey carried the ball six straight times, scoring on a one-yard rush for his first career touchdown with 7:29 remaining in the contest.
The Rams spoiled the shutout in their next possession, as Mroz completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Khayri Denny, making the score 28-7 with 5:02 left.
However, Croskey answered with three more carries, capping the three-play, 42-yard drive with a 36-yard touchdown run, giving the Danes a commanding 35-7 advantage.
Rayshan Clark set up UAlbany’s victory formation, intercepting Mroz’s final pass of the game with 21 seconds remaining, sealing the win.
The Danes totaled 354 yards of offense led by Crook’s 191 passing yards, completing 19-of-27 attempts, while also accounting for three touchdowns (one rushing, two passing).
“If he continues to manage a game like this we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” said Gattuso of Crook’s performance.
Croskey added 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, while Gontarek led the receivers with five receptions, 51 yards and a touchdown.
“Last week we took a loss – Mike Nicastro – so this week when we came into practice, everybody was rowdy, everybody was pumped up and we knew we had to go get the win for him,” said Merritt of the defense. “Everybody stepped up and made the right calls and the seconds, they came and did their jobs and got in there.”
“I was pleased with the win; I was pleased with the effort; It was a good game,” said Gattuso. “We’ve certainly got a big challenge next week, but we’re going to enjoy this at least for a few hours.”
The Great Danes travel to take on James Madison next Saturday. Kickoff in Harrisonburg, Va. is set for 3 p.m.