Albany, N.Y. - Vinny Esposito passed for a season-high 280 yards and two touchdowns, as UAlbany held off Bryant, 20-17, in Northeast Conference play on Saturday, Oct. 17 at University Field. The Great Danes established a conference record by winning their 17th straight against league opponents.
Bryant (3-3, NEC 2-1) grabbed a 9-6 early in the third quarter off a gadget play. Running back Mike Canfora moved to his right, off a fake reverse, and fired a perfect 13-yard strike to a wide open Vinton South for the go-ahead touchdown. The extra-point was blocked.
UAlbany (5-2, NEC 4-0) took advantage of a mistake later in the period. Tim Mastrino muffed a punt return and Great Danes' safety Jake Ciccarello made the recovery at the Bryant 37. After the Bulldogs' defense stiffened to set up a fourth-and-seven situation, Esposito hit Jason Poore on a post pattern in the middle of the field. The 6-foot-6 receiver split the safeties and reached across the goal line to complete a 34-yard scoring play.
"We knew they were doubling (Tim) Bush and the safety was spying," said Poore, who caught his first touchdown of the season. "Vinny (Esposito) put the ball where only the receiver could catch it. I reached across the line and looked to see if the referee's hands were up."
The Great Danes would stop Bryant on its next offensive series when inside linebacker Chris Simpson sacked quarterback Mike Croce on fourth down at the Albany 40. UAlbany then marched 60 yards to paydirt for a 20-9 lead. Esposito, who completed 25 of 32 pass attempts, hit Tim Bush for 32 yards in a third-down situation to keep the sequence alive. After tailback David McCarty rushed three straight times to the Bryant 5-yard line, Esposito found Andrew Smith in the right flat for the touchdown on the first play of the final quarter.
"The receivers have been consistent and it has been a matter of me getting them the football," explained Esposito, who established the program's single-standard for completions, breaking a mark that had stood since 1995. "Like most teams they are putting eight guys in the box to stop the run, so we took advantage with our size and speed on the outside. This gives me confidence as we head down the stretch.
The Bulldogs, who are in their first season as a conference member and second year at the Division I FCS level, did not go away quietly. UAlbany's defense snuffed out a scoring threat deep in its own end of the field. Cornerback Ross Bertrand came up with a sack on first down, before Croce's fourth-down pass fell incomplete at the Great Danes' 23-yard line.
But Bryant's Michael Morgan partially blocked a punt, following a high snap from center, to set up his team's next possession. The Bulldogs made use of a face-mask penalty that wiped out a sack and senior tailback Jerell Smith finished off the eight-play drive with a 2-yard scoring run over right tackle. Croce threw a two-point conversion pass to Mastrino in cutting the margin to 20-17 with 3:13 remaining.
After Poore leaped into the air to recover the on-side kick, the Great Danes were able to basically run out the clock. Esposito hooked up with Bush, who had 10 receptions for 135 yards, on a third-down pass. McCarty, who lugged the ball 38 times for 118 yards, was the primary rusher as his team extended its home win streak to 12 straight.
"We had to battle because that was a game we could have lost five or six times (at any point)," offered UAlbany coach Bob Ford, who picked up his 230th career win at the school. "They did a great job of shutting down our run game. Vinny (Esposito) and Jason (Poore) executed that fourth-down pass and that probably was the turning point in the game."
In a first half where the defenses controlled the action, as the two teams combined for three field goals. UAlbany's Herb Glass made attempts from 39 and 19 yards to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the second quarter. Bryant's field goal was set up by Aaron Bryant's blocked punt.
Croce, a sophomore, completed 22 of 35 passes for 234 yards, but was sacked five times. Smith, who came into the contest averaging nearly 109 rushing yards, was held to 44 on the ground. UAlbany's Poore had a career day with eight receptions for 73 yards.
Paw Prints: UAlbany has won 17 in a row against Northeast Conference opponents, breaking Robert Morris' standard of 16 straight from 1998-2000 ... QB Vinny Esposito posted the third-best single-game passing yardage total (280) in the program's FCS history ... Esposito's 25 completions (32 attempts) eclipsed Joe Savino's single-game mark of 24 that was established on Nov. 19, 1995 ... UAlbany has no turnovers for the second time this season ... UAlbany's defense held Bryant to 30 net rushing yards, the lowest figure by an opponent since Nov. 4, 2006 ... WR Tim Bush tied the program's FCS single-game receptions record with 10 catches for 135 yards ... Bush has five 100-yard receiving games as a collegian
Courtesy: UAlbany Sports Information