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Defense Shines in Come From Behind Win

By Aaron Cheris


After 12 years as the head coach at Duquesne University, University at Albany head coach Greg Gattuso finally got a chance to compete against his old squad.

His current squad was barely better on Saturday afternoon as UAlbany defeated Duquesne 17-14 in front of a crowd of 6,227 at Bob Ford Field.

“It was the most difficult game in the world for me,” Gattuso said. “It was really weird. It was just not something you could prepare yourself for. It’s just odd.”

The game started off favorably for the visiting Dukes as UAlbany (2-2) had to punt after just three plays on its opening drive. On their first drive, the Dukes (2-2) marched down the field. After multiple third down conversions, running back Rafiq Douglas dove into the end zone from a yard away for a touchdown to put Duquesne up 7-0.

Late in the second quarter, UAlbany answered. On a first down play, UAlbany running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks scrambled and lost 11 yards.

On second down and 21, UAlbany quarterback DJ Crook fired a deep pass toward receiver Brad Harris. Near the sideline, Harris made the 34-yard touchdown catch in the end zone to put the crowd on its feet and put the Great Danes level on the scoreboard.

“It was tough, I went out there, I ran by [the defender], I looked back, and the ball was right there. I turned around, put my arms up, and I got it,” Harris said.

Harris finished with a career-high 122 yards receiving on seven catches.

As halftime approached, the Dukes regained their lead. Quarterback Dillon Buechel found top receiver Chris King for a 42-yard gain to the UAlbany nine-yard line. A couple plays later, Beuchel found King for a touchdown to give the Dukes a 14-7 halftime lead.

“I told them, ‘We’re not playing well. They punched us in the face. Let’s see what kind of team we are.’ I was very curious to see how we would play in the second half,” Gattuso said of his message to his team at halftime. “They came out and fought their tails off and won the game and I’m proud of them.”

In the third quarter, neither team could do anything on its first drive. Two minutes into the third quarter, UAlbany’s Jon Martin sent a punt high and deep toward Duquesne returner Bobby Guistine. Guistine couldn’t handle the ball, and UAlbany linebacker Julian Cox was able to recover the ball to get UAlbany possession.

“These young guys keep going in and playing well,” Gattuso said. “Those kids stepped up. They were a little down and out this week and they went in and played their tails off.”

On the ensuing drive, Crook found freshman receiver Zee Roberson for 12 yards on third and 10 to keep the drive going. A few plays later, Crook aired one out toward Roberson in the end zone. While being interfered, Roberson was able to make the diving catch for the game-tying 29-yard touchdown. It was the first touchdown of Roberson’s college career.

“Once the ball was in the air, in my mind it was mine, and I wasn’t going to be denied that,” Roberson said. “I just made sure that I got in position to make the catch.”

“Our offense is still a work in progress. We’re still working on everything,” Crook said. “All that matters is that we got the win today.”

Roberson finished the game eight catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Crook finished 19-for-32 passing for 261 yard and two touchdowns.

Later in the third quarter, UAlbany was able to take the lead on a Patrick Toole 28 yard field goal, his first of the season.

The rest of the game was a defensive battle, with neither team able to muster anything on offense. In the fourth quarter, Cox sacked Buechel to force a Duquesne punt.

After UAlbany turned the ball over on downs with under a minute left, the Dukes had one last chance at a miracle.

As time expired, Buechel’s final Hail Mary pass toward the end zone was intercepted by UAlbany safety Chris Johnson.

For Duquesne, Buechel finished 18-for-32 in the air for 213 yards and a touchdown. Douglas added 38 yards on 13 carries on the ground. King led all players with 11 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.

UAlbany’s defense held the Dukes scoreless in the second half in the win. For UAlbany, running back Elliot Croskey was held to just 56 yards on 24 carries.

“The offense did well. The defense played an incredible second half,” Gattuso said. “We were fortunate to come out of here with a win today.”

In their next game, UAlbany will travel to play Holy Cross on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. UAlbany defeated Holy Cross 14-13 last year in Gattuso’s first game as UAlbany head coach.

UAlbany Football
Brittany Gregory / Albany Student Press  Brad Harris looked in his touchdown catch to tie the game in the first half. 

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