ALBANY, N.Y. - As the clock ticked down to 00:00 on Saturday afternoon, one football team celebrated its first-ever FCS playoff win.
And it wasn’t Central Connecticut State.
When the final whistle blew, it was the Albany players and coaches on the sideline who swarmed the field. And it was the Great Danes’ assistant coaches in the press box began yelling out, “We’re going to Montana. We’re going to Montana.”
All the 17th-ranked Blue Devils were left with was what could have been as their search for a playoff win continues.
“At the end of the day they played better than we did,” CCSU quarterback Aaron Winchester said.
After the Blue Devils scored the first touchdown of the afternoon, No. 25 Albany responded with 42 unanswered points, including a 28-point third quarter, to hand CCSU a 42-14 loss in the first-round matchup.
Albany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler threw four of his six touchdown passes in that decisive quarter to four different receivers to send the Great Danes (9-4) to a second-round meeting at fifth-seeded Montana State (9-3) next Saturday at 3 p.m. CCSU’s season, meanwhile, ends.
“It was nice to be back,” said Blue Devils head coach Ryan Mccarthy, who spent 13 seasons coaching at Albany, including five as offensive coordinator before joining CCSU’s staff. “Obviously, it felt a lot better for the first 30 minutes than the last 30 minutes. That third quarter really unraveled, but they’re a good football team.”
Undercuffler hit Juwan Green for a 40-yard touchdown pass two plays into the second half to give the Great Danes their first lead of the game. He then followed it up with a 33-yard pass to Jerah Reeves, an 11 yarder to LJ Wesneski and a 9-yard pass to Tyler Oedekoven with 38 seconds left to make it 35-7.
The Great Danes outgained the Blue Devils 237-57 in total yards in the third quarter and 404-347 overall, despite CCSU (11-2) running 11 more plays. The Blue Devils came into the game second in the nation in total defense with 273.3 ypg.
“We had a few guys that went down before [the end of] the [first] half,” CCSU safety DJ Exilhomme said. “But Albany came back [in the second half] with made some adjustments that we weren’t prepared for. That had a big effect on the game and how we played. There was some stuff we hadn’t seen before.”
Undercuffler, who completed 19 of his 30 passes for 304 yards and an interception, capped off the Great Danes’ scoring with a 10-yard pass to Karl Mofor in the fourth. But it was his first touchdown pass that swung the momentum in Albany’s favor.
With 1:13 left in the second quarter, following a 17-yard return from Oedekoven, Undercuffler led Albany on an 8-play, 40-yard drive that ended with 12-yard Green touchdown with 17 seconds before halftime. It started a run for Albany that led to three scores in a 4 minute and 53 second span and turned a 7-0 CCSU lead into a 21-7 deficit.
Green finished with seven catches for 105 yards, while Reeves caught six passes for a game-high 134 yards.
“Once we got that touchdown, I thought that would break the ice and in the second half, it was just a storm,” Great Danes head coach Greg Gattuso said. “It was total domination by our guys.”
The Blue Devils, who took an early lead on Winchester’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Theo Zidor in the first quarter, didn’t score again until the quarterback’s 4-yard run three minutes into the fourth.
It was the fewest number of points they had scored all season. But they had their opportunities.
CCSU used up 8 minutes and 38 seconds of the first-quarter clock on its opening drive of the game and drove down to the Albany 3, but Joe Zoppi’s 20-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
Linebacker Tre Jones picked off Undercuffler three drives later, setting the Blue Devils up with good field position at the Great Danes’ 32-yard line. But CCSU managed to go just seven yards and turned the ball over on downs after Winchester rushed for no gain on 4th-and-3.
Winchester ended his college career completing 15-of-36 passes for 148 passing yards and an interception, while carrying the ball 12 times for 69 yards to tie him for the team lead with Danley Exilhomme.
“For us, throughout the season, we’ve always called it good momentum and when we get into a rhythm we can’t be stopped,” Winchester said. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm today. I wasn’t myself in terms of being consistent within the pocket and trusting the reads. As far as the unit, I didn’t make enough throws and enough runs, stuff I normally do, didn’t happen today. And I put that on me.”
Now, all the Blue Devils can do is play for a chance to try and be in the same position next season. But until then, the long offseason awaits.
“It wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for, but when you get to this stage, every team is going to be good,” McCarthy said.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org