Saturday, November 16, 2002

University of Albany Football Wins 2002 NEC Football Championship

Albany, NY -- Tailback Gary Jones rushed for 103 yards and quarterback Ryan Roeder scored on a 59-yard run in the second quarter as Albany captured its first-ever Northeast Conference championship with a 19-7 victory over Monmouth in the regular-season finale for both teams on Saturday afternoon at University Field.

The Great Danes also earned an ECAC Football Classic berth by winning the NEC title and will host Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Duquesne on Nov. 23.

Albany (7-4, NEC 6-1) scored on its first series, an eight-play drive that was capped by Stan Zylinski's 37-yard field goal. Roeder, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 91 yards on a field covered by a two-inch, overnight snowfall, started the march with a 25-yard completion to flanker Matt Crudo.

The Great Danes' defense, who limited the visitors to 104 yards, including four net rushing yards, set up another field goal in the first quarter. Defensive tackle Matt Kryzak forced fullback Mike DiBella to fumble and defensive end Kevin Gribbin made the recovery at the Monmouth 23. Four plays later, Zylinski's 31-yarder gave his team a 6-0 lead.

Albany put together a 13-play, 54-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock for its first touchdown. Jones, who ran for 100 or more yards for the sixth straight game, and broke the school's single-season record for all-purpose yards, rushed four consecutive times to the Monmouth 1. Fullback Eddie Unverzagt busted into the end zone for the final yard, and his team had a 13-0 advantage with 10:45 left in the second quarter.

Roeder, who rushed 12 times for a career-high 62 yards, helped extend his Albany's lead in the final minute of the opening half. He checked off against a blitzing linebacker, and sprinted over left guard and up the sideline on a 59-yard touchdown run. The extra-point was blocked, following a celebration penalty, and the Great Danes led 19-0 at halftime.

"Winning a conference championship is a great way to finish your career," said Roeder, who scored his eighth rushing TD of the season. "We've come up short in the past, and then to finally win it is a great feeling. We were shorthanded with (fullback) Jon George injured, and the defense just picked it up."

Monmouth (2-8, NEC 2-5) got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter, when quarterback Bill Rankin fired a 25-yard scoring pass to Dennis Carriero. Rankin, who completed just 6 of 21 attempts for 89 yards, drove his team to the Albany 34 late in the fourth quarter, but the sequence stalled out when he was sacked for the fourth time on the afternoon.

"We were picked the win the conference in the preseason, and I'd be disappointed if we had to share it," commented Albany coach Bob Ford, whose team finished ahead of Sacred Heart and Stony Brook who tied for second with 5-2 conference records. "The defense was spectacular and they also helped to set up scores today."

The Great Danes, who are among the top Division I-AA teams against the run, held an opponent to less than 100 yards on the ground for the fifth time this season

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