Saturday, October 31, 2009

Football Edged By Central Connecticut State, 31-29, in a Battle of Northeast Conference Unbeatens

New Britain, Conn. - James Mallory rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns as Central Connecticut State rallied in the second half for a 31-29 victory over UAlbany in a battle of Northeast Conference unbeatens on Saturday, Oct. 31 before 3,698 fans at Arute Field.

Central Connecticut State (7-1, NEC 5-0) ran off 17 unanswered points to reverse a nine-point halftime deficit. The Blue Devils drove the length of the field with the second-half kickoff but quarterback Aubrey Norris fumbled to end the non-scoring effort. But fortunes turned when CCSU strong safety Alondre Rush picked off Vinny Esposito's third-down pass. Mallory then bolted 14 yards for a touchdown to close the gap to 23-21 with 4:39 left in the period.

The Blue Devils, who extended their win streak to six in a row, went ahead 28-23 on their next possession. Norris, who completed 10 of 19 passes for 184 yards, threw a third-down, 59-yard strike to wide receiver Josue Paul to ignite the scoring drive. Mallory pushed his way through the middle on a 1-yard touchdown run. Norris and Paul connected on another 43-yard pass that led to Joe Izzo's 28-yard field goal and a 31-23 margin with 9:17 to play in the final quarter. Paul had five receptions for 131 yards.

UAlbany (6-3, NEC 5-1) later recovered from a missed 22-yard field goal midway through the final quarter and put together a nine-play touchdown drive in the closing minutes. Esposito, who hit on 25-of-39 through the air for 266 yards, found Tim Bush with a fourth-down throw to keep possession. Justin Gannon would score on an 8-yard screen pass with 59 seconds remaining. Esposito then completed a two-point pass to Paul Booker, but the tight end was called for offensive pass interference. CCSU's Ray Sauders then sacked Esposito on the next conversion attempt.

The Great Danes, who had their six-game win skein halted after opening with two losses, were still in business when outside linebacker Dave Nicomini recovered Herb Glass' high-bouncing onside kick. But on fourth-and-one at the 50-yard line, Rush stepped in front of an Esposito pass that was intended for Jason Poore and made the interception to seal the outcome.

"It's hard to beat anyone. and if you don't believe it look at the NFL (National Football League) every week," said UAlbany coach Bob Ford, whose squad had its conference-record win streak of 18 straight ended. "There was a lot offense and they made a number of big plays. (James) Mallory has quite a motor with a quick burst, but we never stopped them on third down."

Central Connecticut State, who made good on 10-of-13 three-down conversions, took a 14-9 lead with 6:36 remaining in the second quarter when wide receiver Richie Martin scored on a 10-yard reverse. The touchdown drive was keyed by Norris' 45-yard pass to Nick Colagiovanni. Martin later took a handoff from Mallory on the scoring play and went around left end to the end zone.

UAlbany regrouped with a pair of touchdowns in a two-minute-and-37-second span. Esposito hooked up with Poore on a 7-yard slant to put their back on top. The scoring sequence was set up by a flea-flicker, screen pass to Gannon for 24 yards into CCSU territory. On the following kickoff, safety Dave Casale, who totaled 12 tackles and two fumble recoveries, stripped Paul and pounced on the loose ball at the Blue Devil 33. Senior tailback David McCarty, who was questionable coming into the contest with both an ankle and wrist sprain, later slanted to the left on a 10-yard touchdown run for a 23-14 advantage.

In a first half that produced plenty of fireworks, the Great Danes struck first with a 12-play march. Esposito scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak, but the extra point failed due to a high snap. The Blue Devils answered immediately as Mallory broke clean over right guard and dashed 79 yards to paydirt for a 7-6 lead. UAlbany went back in front early in the second quarter when Glass booted a 23-yard field goal to finish off another 12-play drive.

"We battled, but we left points on the field," said Esposito, whose team won a two-point decision that came down to the last minutes in last year's meeting. "Our offense squandered some opportunities. The interception (in the third quarter) changed the momentum and they scored off it."

The Blue Devils, who took over sole possession of first place in the conference standings and have the inside track to their first Gridiron Classic appearance, bottled up UAlbany's rushing attack throughout the game, holding the visitors to 110 net yards. McCarty finished with 65 yards on 22 carries. Meanwhile, Bush caught 10 passes for 95 yards and became the program's career leader with 138 receptions, breaking Dan Gmelin's career standard.

"We had some alignment issues, but we basically beat ourselves on defense," said UAlbany's Casale, whose team allowed its first 200-yard rusher since Oct. 6, 2007. "They have good athletes with great speed at quarterback, running back and receiver. It's hard to cover everything."

Courtesy: UAlbany Sports Information

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