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Photo from UAlbany Athletics Brad Harris’ touchdown catch got the Great Danes off and running early.
Photo from UAlbany Athletics
Brad Harris’ touchdown catch got the Great Danes off and running early.

By Shane Marshall

Contributing Writer

[email protected]

Saturday night, it didn’t matter what defensive scheme Columbia drew up in the University at Albany’s 42-7 win. If redshirt senior running back Omar Osbourne saw daylight, he was going to make a move, and chew up yards.

   In fact, Omar ate up 193 yards on the ground on just 15 carries, collected another 20 in the receiving game, and found the end zone twice with rushing touchdowns of 45 and 57 yards.

   Osbourne now sits just 54 yards behind Peter Pedro for sixth all-time on the Danes career rushing list.

   UAlbany dominated the game on the ground. Including Osbourne’s effort, the Danes racked up 373 yards rushing on 37 attempts. Freshman wide receiver Josh Gontarek added 72, and sophomore Andre Martin added another 60.

   “The blocking is great,” Osbourne said. “I just did my job. I’m trusting my blocks, running behind my blocks, and Will (Fiacchi) throwing the ball opens it up for me.”

   Coach Greg Gattuso said Osbourne’s effort silenced some people who have said that the back can’t finish big runs. “Finishing is big in sports, and he did a great job running through the secondary, and it was good to see him get out there and finish them,” Gattuso said.

   With the running game firing on all cylinders, Will Fiacchi’s job became that much easier. The success in the running game allowed Fiacchi to go 6-for-10 passing in the first half with three touchdown passes, a season high for the redshirt senior. Fiacchi threw for three touchdowns just one other time in 2012 against Robert Morris.

   Fiacchi’s first strike was a 44-yard pass to redshirt freshman Brad Harris, who went into the endzone untouched with 8:38 left in the first quarter for the Danes first score. In the second, Fiacchi connected with Cole King on a 13-yard back shoulder throw to put the Danes up, 14-0. After an Osbourne run put the Danes up 21-0, Gontarek caught a 20-yard pass from Fiacchi to make it 28-0.

   “When you have a back like Omar, teams are going to bring that second safety down to try and stop the run,” Fiacchi said. “We have great receivers, they’re going to run by people. The O-line not only opened holes for Omar, we had tons of time to throw the ball. I just find the open guy, and give him the ball.”

   Coming off a sloppy start against Rhode Island last week where the Danes found themselves down 14-0 early, the defense lived up to their reputation as the best defense in the CAA, and third best defense in FCS in term of scoring defense.

   The Great Danes didn’t allow Columbia to score until the fourth quarter when most of the starters had been taken out, and Columbia put together their best drive of the game, ending with a one-yard touchdown run by Cameron Molina. The three shutout quarters gives UAlbany eleven shutout quarters in the first four games. UAlbany’s defense is only allowing 10 points per game to opponents through the first four games, a big reason why UAlbany is 4-0 for the first time since 2001.

   As every coach knows, the key to winning essentially rides on the turnover battle. Coming into the game, UAlbany’s defense averaged three takeaways per game. They produced five Saturday night. Three fumble recoveries and interceptions from Jamal Merritt and Damian Young gave Fiacchi & Co. a short field for many drives.

   “In practice we kind of have a quota,” redshirt sophomore corner Rayshan Clark said. “We go into games with the same thought, that we need to get a certain amount of turnovers.” Clark finished the game with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

   The performance keeps the Danes’ undefeated season alive, and it gets harder from here. CAA rival James Madison is sure to give UAlbany their toughest challenge this season.

   “They’re a great program,” Coach Gattuso said. “They’re going to be the best we’ve played up to this point. They’ve been in some wars, these past couple weeks. We’ve got to make sure we’re on our A game.”

   The victory for UAlbany came on Hall of Fame weekend in front of 5,107 fans, a drop-off from the season opener’s sixth-highest home attendance of 6,748 against Holy Cross. A big crowd could be an x-factor for the Danes according to Osbourne.

   “Having a big crowd, we feed off of that,” Osbourne said. “We like to have the crowd into it with us, that gets us riled up.”

   The Great Danes will look to continue their hot streak next Saturday against James Madison  at Bob Ford Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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