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Any win is a good win for the Albany Great Danes, especially when that win moves the team to an undefeated 4-0 record. The 22nd/23rd ranked Great Danes welcomed the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash to Tom and Mary Casey Stadium on Saturday evening, looking to extend their perfect record in the all-time series, which dates back to when both teams were a member of the NEC, to 15-0.

Albany, coming off a 45-28 victory in their home-opener against Holy Cross, faced an uphill battle from the beginning of the game, as they struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball in the first half.

After each team punted on their first possession, SFU began to string a drive together, as quarterback Zack Drayer completed a 26-yard pass to running back Marcus Bagley. However, just two plays later, Marcus Alston was stripped by Josh Wynn, and Michael Nicastro jumped on the ball, to the delight of the home crowd. Albany’s ensuing drive was stalled when quarterback Neven Sussman was sacked for the second time of the game, this time on third down, setting up a field goal attempt by Ethan Stark, who was 1 for 4 on field goal attempts entering the game. His struggles continued, this time missing a 40-yard field goal wide left. With the ball back, Drayer orchestrated a methodical drive, which extended into the second quarter, and got the ball into the red-zone for the Red Flash, as they looked to put some points on the board and take an early lead. The Albany defense held tough, as they forced a fourth and one field goal try from the 5-yard line, which Lance Geesey split the uprights on, giving SFU a 3-0 lead with 14:13 to go before halftime. “Relax. Bend, don’t break. We’ll be alright.” Graduate senior Abner Logan reminded the Great Danes.

Geesey then kicked the ball out of bounds on the next kickoff, setting Albany up with a short field and a good opportunity to answer the scoring drive by SFU. Once again, the offense stalled after two quick first-downs, punting from the SFU 38-yard line.

Looking to build on their small lead, SFU got the ball back on their own 20. Facing a third and five, Drayer completed a bubble screen to Kamron Lewis for a first down, as Albany had a tough time getting off the field on third down, allowing a first down on 5 out of 9 third downs in the first half. Drayer also showcased his scrambling ability, routinely avoiding defenders and extending plays behind the line-of-scrimmage and finding the open receiver downfield. After long 7:43 drive, Geesey was just able to push a 50-yard field goal through the uprights, extending the SFU lead to 6-0, with 4:30 to go in the first half. After another kickoff by Geesey went out of bounds, Albany regained possession with great field position. One again, they could not take advantage, as SFU forced a three and out. A scary moment came when Neven Sussman was drilled in the leg by SFU safety/return specialist Lorenzo Jerome, and had to be helped off the field by trainers. Sussman was seen jogging to the locker room with less than 30 seconds left in the half, and returned after halftime.

With the ball back at their own 18, and less than 3 minutes on the clock, SFU’s offense had to hurry to score again. Marcus Bagley was the early star of the drive, before a leg injury ended his night prematurely. Bagley finished the game with 69 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards. His absence was a huge factor in the result of the game. Jymere Jordan-Toney replaced Bagley, leading the team to the Albany 16-yard line with just three seconds left before the half ended. For the third time in the quarter, Geesey drilled a field goal, as SFU went to the locker room leading 9-0.

As Albany’s head coach Greg Gattuso said after the game about the first half of play, “we talked internally. I didn’t yell at them…It’s all about together, and us.” When asked about his halftime adjustments, Gattuso admitted that his team “didn’t really make any adjustments. We just started playing better.”

Albany came out of the locker room for the second half, and received the kickoff to begin the third quarter. Ibitokun-Hanks shook off his first half performance, carrying the ball for 14 yards and a first-down on the first play of the drive. The offense continued to move the ball downfield, and with the ball at the SFU 27, Sussman lobbed a ball into the end-zone for Austin Ellis. The pass fell incomplete, but a pass interference penalty was called, setting Albany up with a 1st and 10 from the 12. After two short run plays and an incomplete pass, Stark drilled a 24-yard field goal, cutting the SFU lead to 9-3. After forcing a punt by SFU, Neven Sussman’s pass was intercepted by Lorenzo Jerome, who returned it 22 yards to the Albany 28. After three plays, Geesey hooked a 37-yard field goal wide left, giving Albany the ball once again. Albany put together a quick drive, set up by a 36-yard run by Ibitokun-Hanks, and gained the lead when Sussman lofted the ball to Sophomore Jordan Crockett in the back corner of the end-zone. The 12-yard touchdown catch was the first touchdown in Crockett’s career. With the 10-9 lead, Albany would never trail again.

After a quick three and out for SFU, Albany quickly scored again, needing just 3 plays to go 69 yards, as Dione Alston scored on a 54-yard run. Stark’s extra point made it a 17-9 game with 11:39 to go in the fourth quarter. Both teams traded punts, and SFU had the ball again with 7:47 left in the game, trailing by 8 points. A first-down after an 8-yard scramble by Zack Drayer was quickly negated by a Kareem Brown interception, the second turnover by SFU. Needing just 29 yards to score a touchdown, Albany looked to seal the game with 5:38 left to play. The offense could not get a first-down, and settled for a 37-yard Ethan Stark field goal instead. Now down 2 scores, SFU got the ball back, and entered Albany territory, but could not capitalize, as Rodriquez Alexander fumbled the ball after a 35-yard reception, and Josh Wynn recovered for the Great Danes, all-but ending the game. A quick three and out by Albany gave SFU the ball with less than 2 minutes to go.

After an 18-yard reception along the sideline, both teams scuffled, and offsetting penalties were called. In the commotion, star linebacker Michael Nicastro was injured by a late shot from an SFU player, and had to leave the game due to a lower-body injury. Gattuso was able to confirm that it was not an injury to either knee, but gave no other information regarding Nicastro’s injury.

2 plays later, Drayer completed a long, 44-yard pass to Kamron Lewis, and SFU was in prime scoring position at the Albany 3. On the next play, Jamal Robinson intercepted Drayer in the end-zone, and Neven Sussman kneeled the ball twice, giving Albany a 20-9 victory.

Ibitokun-Hanks was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time this season, gaining 90 yards on 22 carries, and also failed to reach the end-zone for the first time this season as well. Sussman finished 7-15 for 83 yards, a touchdown and an interception through the air. Dione Alston was a bright spot on offense, rushing for 87 yards and a touchdown on just 4 carries. The defense was led by Nicastro, who totaled 16 tackles on the evening, setting a new career-high for him. Josh Wynn also starred defensively, racking up 10 tackles, a forced fumble, and also recovered a fumble.

Drayer led the Red Flash offense, going 20-34 for 270 yards and 2 interceptions on the night. SFU outgained Albany 415-251 in the game, but turned the ball over 4 times, as Albany’s turnover margin now stands at +15 on the year.

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