Story and photo courtesy of Albany Athletics
ALBANY, N.Y. - In front 6,852 fans, marking the third-largest home crowd in program history and largest since 1978, the No. 24 University at Albany football team boosted the energy of the already spirited Homecoming crowd Saturday afternoon with a 36-13 win over the visiting Saint Francis Red Flash.
For the third straight game, senior tailback Drew Smith blasted his way into the end zone three different times, bringing his nation-leading total up to 15 touchdowns this season. Smith carried the ball 19 times in the victory for 75 rushing yards. He also caught three passes, finishing with 51 receiving yards 126 all-purpose yards.
In addition to Smith, receivers Ryan Kirchner and Cole King also broke the 100 all-purpose yard mark. Kirchner finished with 104 yards, making four catches for 58 receiving yard and also returned three punts for 46 yards. Sophomore Cole King matched his career-high of seven receptions, recording an even 100 yards on the afternoon.
Sophomore Jake Meek had a break-out game, rushing 48 yards from the quarterback position and tallied two touchdowns, including a 38-yard scoring scamper.
Sophomore quarterback Will Fiacchi had another sound game in the pocket, completing 21-of-31 attempts for 255 passing yards.
Defensively, senior Chris Wilk led the squad with eight tackles, including five solo. Justinian Mason and Jon Morgan were also stellar in limiting the league's leading rushing game to 159 yards on the ground with six tackles apiece.
Despite all the purple and gold spirit surrounding University Field, the visitors made the first strike on their first drive of the afternoon. Saint Francis used a steady 10-play, 33-yard drive down the field to set up Josh Thiel's 38-yard field goal at the 10:30 mark in the opening quarter.
After forcing the Great Danes to punt, the Red Flash made it 10-0 heading into the second quarter, as Keion Wade capped a seven-play, 91-yard drive with a 53-yard dash through the defense.
However, the Great Danes battled back on their first drive of the second stanza. Although Kevin Chillis' impressive 57-yard scamper through the secondary was called back due to penalty, the Great Danes still crossed the goal line in the drive on Smith's first touchdown of the game. With 10:01 to go in the first half Smith rushed three yards through the Red Flash's defensive line to put UAlbany within four, 10-6, after a missed extra point.
The Red Flash, however, made the next move, increasing their advantage to seven, 13-6, on Thiel's 44-yard field goal with 4:57 remaining in the half. That would be Saint Francis' last lead of the day.
"All it takes is one good drive and we're back in it," said Smith on the comeback. "There's no other option but to go out and fight. It's not like you can crumble."
With 2:15 to go before the break, Smith finished off the Great Danes' eight-play, 65-yard drive with another three-yard rush into the end zone, tying the ballgame, 13-13.
Forcing the visitors to punt with a minute remaining, UAlbany put itself into field goal position as the clock wound down. From 27-yards out, Sean Kenny booted it through the uprights as time expired, giving the Danes a 16-13 lead at the half.
From there, UAlbany never looked back, scoring 20 unanswered points the rest of the way. For the second consecutive game, the Great Dane defense did not allow the opponent a single score in the second half.
With 8:12 to go in the third quarter, Meek rushed seven yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown, giving UAlbany a 22-13 lead after the blocked extra point.
A Red Flash fumble forced and recovered by senior Ocieka Bakou put the ball back into the hands of the hosts, and the Danes capitalized with Smith rushing 10 yards for his third touchdown of the game.
Leading 29-13, the Great Danes looked to put the game away at the start of the fourth quarter. However, a fumble on the two yard line, as Meek tried to push through for his second score of the game, briefly shifted momentum to Saint Francis.
However, the miscue would turn out to be non-concerning, as UAlbany's consistent defense held off the Red Flash and Meek redeemed himself with a 38-yard scramble down the field and into the end zone for the final points of the day.
The Great Danes enter their bye week alone atop the Northeast Conference standings with a 6-1 overall mark and perfect 4-0 record in the league. UAlbany will resume play on Oct. 27th when they travel to take on Sacred Heart at 1:00 p.m.