Bulls tame Great Danes in opener
By Shane Marshall
September 8, 2015
The Great Danes’ new era began with a touchdown, but Buffalo stormed back with 38 unanswered points en route to a 51-14 victory on Saturday afternoon at UB Stadium.
“We had 38 unanswered (points),” University at Albany sophomore wide receiver Josh Gontarek said. “You’ve just got to keep fighting throughout the game.”
Penn State transfer quarterback DJ Crook marched the Danes 82 yards on 14 plays on the Great Danes’ opening drive, capped with a four-yard touchdown pass to Gontarek. The Danes held a 7-0 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
“It felt good (to score on the opening drive),” Crook said. “I wish it continued. We’ve got to go through this adversity and come back strong next week.”
Crook was 5-for-7 passing for 57 yards, while converting all four of the Danes’ third down chances on the first drive. For the remainder of the game, Crook matched his first drive passing yard totals on 6-for-15 passing.
Buffalo tied the game on the next drive with an eight-play, 60-yard touchdown drive, ending with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Joe Licata to Marcus McGill with 3:29 left in the first quarter.
That would lead to 31 more unanswered points for the Bulls as Adam Mitcheson converted his first career field goal attempt from 40 yards out to make it 10-7 early in the second quarter.
Bulls’ running back Anthone Taylor found the end zone from 21 yards out with 7:19 remaining until halftime to give the Bulls a 17-7 lead. Taylor, an All-MAC second teamer a year ago, rushed for 104 yards on 17 carries including two touchdowns.
“(Taylor) is outstanding,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “We’re certainly not going to see anybody better. You’ve got to give him credit.”
Just 2:28 before the half, Jordan Johnson punched it in from a yard out to make it 24-7 Bulls at the half.
With UAlbany opening the second half with the football, Crook threw his second interception of the game to give the Bulls possession on the Danes’ 22. Crook tried hitting Brad Harris on a comeback route, but Boise Ross beat Harris back to the ball.
The Bulls put the nail in the coffin with Taylor’s one-yard touchdown run to make it 31-7 with 13:16 remaining.
“I have to make better decisions,” Crook said. “(I have to) put my team in better situations. It was unfortunate, but I have to be able to move on from that.”
While Crook started to struggle, Licata kept finding receivers for Buffalo. The senior from Williamsville, N.Y., connected with Jacob Martinez for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 9:08 left in the third quarter to make it 38-7, Buffalo.
Licata finished the game 20-for-26 for 246 yards and two touchdowns, while becoming the Bulls’ all-time leader in total touchdowns.
“He’s a mature quarterback,” UAlbany senior linebacker Colin Cooper said. “He’s played a lot of ball.”
Cooper’s linebacking partner, and Great Danes captain, Michael Nicastro sustained a possible knee injury in the first half.
“We lost the heart and soul of our defense,” Gattuso said. “That was a hard thing to overcome. We have to get some kids to step up. (Losing) Mike Nicastro was a big blow. That was a hard thing to overcome.”
UAlbany found the end zone again when Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks found the end zone with a one-yard run to make it 38-14 with 11:48 in the fourth quarter.
Ibitokun-Hanks’ touchdown was the lone highlight for the Great Danes’ running game. Ibitokun-Hanks rushed for 74 yards on 11 carries, all in the second half of his first collegiate game. Elliot Croskey got the start and recorded just 32 yards on 13 carries.
“Whether something is working, or something is not, I need to find the answer,” Crook said about the lack of big plays on the ground. “I wasn’t able to find an answer today.”
In the final four minutes of the game, Buffalo second-string quarterback Tony Daniel had a one-yard rushing touchdown, and Jacob Martinez had the Bulls’ first punt return touchdown since 2002, making it 51-14, Bulls.
Despite the large margin of victory, the Danes did acknowledge there were some positives to take away from the game. However, business needed to shift to next Saturday against Rhode Island in the Danes’ home opener at Bob Ford Field.
“This is behind us right now,” Cooper said. “We’re going to come in tomorrow, watch what we did, improve off it, and get ready for Rhode Island.”