Saturday, November 15, 2003

University of Albany Football Clinches Share Of NEC Championship

Albany, N.Y. – Senior tailback Gary Jones rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns, as Albany clinched a share of the Northeast Conference championship with a 27-7 victory over Robert Morris on Saturday, Nov. 8 at University Field.

Following a scoreless first quarter, Albany (7-3, NEC 6-1) struck first by taking advantage of a short punt. Jones rumbled for 12 yards on two consecutive carries to the Robert Morris 2, before he powered over right guard to give his team the lead with 8:07 left in the period.

The Great Danes, who have won six of their last seven games, grabbed a 13-0 lead on their next possession. Mike Schlaepfer’s punt went just 24 yards into a 20-mile-per-hour northwest wind. Reserve tailback Rohann Vidal then darted over the left side and broke out to the sideline, as he raced 40 yards for a touchdown.

Albany posted a commanding 20-0 margin with 10:02 left in the third quarter. Robert Morris (6-3, NEC 4-3), bottled up most of the day by the Great Dane defense, was forced to punt from its 10-yard line, but again Schlaepfer’s kick was knocked down by the wind. The Great Danes followed by using Jones to go 31 yards in three plays. Jones, who had run for 200 or more yards in his last two starts, sprinted 22 yards to end zone on counter play over left guard.

The Colonials, who had won five of their last six entering the contest, got on the scoreboard late in third stanza, when Sam Dorsett scored on a fourth-and-goal run from one yard out with 2:07 remaining. Backup quarterback Shaun Abkarian keyed the sequence that enabled his team to close within 20-7 with a 34-yard pass to Ricky Daldo.

After the ensuing kickoff was misplayed, Robert Morris found new life when the Great Danes had to punt from their three-yard line. But Albany punter Stan Zylinski, who had planned to take a safety, saw a wide-open sideline from his end zone, and ran around right end 13 yards for a first down. The special teams play ignited a 16-play, 99-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock. Jones, who had 47 yards on six attempts in the series, capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run over left tackle.

"It’s tough to win on any level, so sharing the title is pretty satisfying," said Albany coach Bob Ford, whose team most hope for Monmouth to lose its final conference game next weekend in order to win the championship outright and earn an ECAC Classic berth. "It’s hard to win when you’ve been picked unanimously to defend the title. You have to be motivated, focused and not beat yourself."

Albany’s defense held Robert Morris to 94 total yards, including 39 net rushing yards, plus came up with two turnovers and four sacks. Dorsett, a senior halfback, finished with 51 yards on 17 carries. The Great Danes, who have the fourth-leading rushing attack in Division I-AA, toppled the 300-yard mark for the seventh time this season by accounting for 345 on the ground. Fullback Jon George and Vidal added 57 and 47 rushing yards, respectively.

"Any time a senior leaves the field with a championship, that’s a great feeling," commented Jones, who has rushed for 1,384 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. "It’s a pleasure to play with this team. The offensive line was just dominant, and we knew from the first play we could control the game."

"We're at least sharing the title and that means the world to me," said senior linebacker Victor Camacho, who had 11 tackles and added an interception as his defense limited Robert Morris to 1-of-13 on third-down conversions. "We are greedy and selfish because we want the championship to ourselves, but we can't control what happens right now."

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