The man of the miracle: Meet Neil Morrison
By Aaron Cheris
Trailing 13-6 to the College of the Holy Cross in the final minute with the clock running toward zero, the University at Albany football team needed a miracle in order to pull off an opening week victory.
They got just that from an unlikely player.
Holy Cross gave the ball to running back Gabe Guild. With over 100 all-purpose yards on the night, Guild looked to be a sure thing to at least hold the ball and gain a few yards to run the clock out.
UAlbany linebacker Neil Morrison’s job was to keep the play contained, and he soon had the opportunity to be the hero. “I saw Sam Gray and Kyle Jordan just hit (Guild) real hard,” Morrison said. “I think Kyle got the ball and Sam popped his helmet off.”
Morrison couldn’t believe his luck when he realized what happened. “I looked down, and I saw the ball just laying there,” he said. “I just picked it up and it got quiet real quick and Rayshan (Clark) said, ‘Go, go, go.’”
Morrison would go 79 yards to the end zone, giving UAlbany a lead in the most improbable of fashions. “When I had the ball, I knew I couldn’t get caught,” he said. “I knew we had a limited amount of time and we needed this.”
After Morrison found the end zone, Patrick Toole knocked in the extra point to give the Great Danes a 14-13 lead with 44 seconds to play. “We knew (Holy Cross) still had plenty of time to get into field goal range,” Morrison said. “We had the same mindset we had the whole game, we need to stop them.”
Once UAlbany held Holy Cross off the board for the final seconds, they had finished off their first win at Bob Ford Field after not winning a game there last season. The win was also the first one for new coach Greg Gattuso, who took over after Bob Ford’s retirement. “It was extremely important. We needed that,” Morrison said of the win.
While Morrison is being viewed as the hero for his play, he is quick to credit his teammates for putting him in position to succeed. “Anybody could have done it because Rayshan Clark, if he would have picked it up, nobody’s catching him,” Morrison said.
For his play, Morrison was named CAA Defensive Player of the Week. “I didn’t expect it. It was a great feeling,” Morrison said of the award. “All of my friends and family are talking about it.”
Morrison played both offense and defense through high school, but switched to defense full time once arriving at UAlbany last season. He didn’t play much last season, but when he played, he made sure he learned from it. “Playing as a true freshman, even not as much as wish I did, it did prepare me pretty well,” he said.
After a thrilling home win, optimism is high among the Great Danes for the rest of their season. “I feel confident, but we need to take it one game at a time,” Morrison said.
The defense continued their strong play last week, shutting out Central Connecticut State 19-0.
UAlbany has a bye week before traveling to Rhode Island on September 20.