Football: Great Danes aren't in awe of ranked opponents
No brag, just fact.
That’s a catchphrase from the late actor Walter Brennan during the old 1960s “Guns of Will Sonnet” TV show.
It’s also how University at Albany head coach Bob Ford feels about his Great Danes after posting a victory over a nationally ranked opponent last weekend.
UAlbany (3-1) defeated 23rd-ranked Maine, 30-20, and although many observers were thrilled that the Great Danes beat the Black Bears on the road in Orono, Ford said it was a game he expected to win.
“This is not a top-10 win for our program. Not at all,” said Ford. “I don’t want to sound cocky. But that’s the way I feel about our program, right now. Maybe the time we beat Maine up there back in the 1970s, and when we beat Delaware and Central Florida on the road in the last few years. Those are definitely top-10 victories in our program history. Even the 3-0 win we had at Maine a few years ago might be considered one of our best wins.
“But we expect to play at this level, and when we play well, we can be competitive at this level,” said Ford.
The biggest part of the Maine victory for Ford was that it was against a Colonial Athletic Association member. The Great Danes will join the CAA in football only next season.
For the record, UAlbany is 7-5 all-time against CAA foes and owns a 4-2 edge in the all-time series with Maine.
“Yes, it’s a meaningful game, in terms of the conference affiliation, but I think the amazing thing for us is that we still have only 38 scholarships, and we’re going up against schools with 63 scholarships. That’s the case in both of our games against nationally ranked teams this season — at Youngstown State and at Maine.”
In fact, Ford was more proud of the way the Great Danes played against the fifth-ranked Penguins at Youngstown State a week ago.
“If you saw us play at Youngstown, you would have been very proud of that, too,” he said. “That was the fifth-ranked team in the nation, and we came very, very close to beating them. We had our chances to win there, and we were close in the fourth quarter. We were also tied at halftime. That was also a very big game for us.”
Against Maine, the Danes’ defense was impressive in the first half, and their offense took charge in the second half.
“We played just great defense in the first half,” said Ford, who pointed to performances like those of Dave Plungas (nine tackles), Olatunji Idowu (eight tackles) and Jon Morgan (eight tackles).
Kicker Sean Kenny tied a program record with three field goals, and Guilderland High School graduate Drew Smith rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown. It was his second 100-yard rushing performance of the year after rolling up 172 yards against Colgate. Sophomore quarterback Will Fiacchi completed 13 of 29 passes for 132 yards.
“You could tell late in the game, when we got up, that the fans at Maine kind of said, ‘Ugh’ and gave a sigh. They knew we kind of had the game won,” Ford said.
“There are probably two reasons why we’ve been so successful over the last few seasons. First, we’ve been able to bring in some outstanding athletes — not just from the Capital Region but from many other areas in the country.
“The other thing is to give credit to our coaching staff, which has done a phenomenal job. I’m just thrilled to be around all of them. They can take C athletes and make them B’s, and they can take B’s and make them A’s. That’s what good coaches do. They make players better.
“Our staff has stayed intact for three yeaers now, and many of them have been with us much longer. Coach [Bill] Banigan has been with us for 17 years, and Don Mion has also been with us for 17 years. Mike Simpson has been with us for 27 years. We’ve been together so long that we think alike. That’s the key, along with the fact that we do have the athletes in our program now.”
The Great Danes, who earned their first NCAA Division I playoff berth last year after being named co-champion in the Northeast Conference, host Monmouth in a NEC game Saturday at 1.