In the end, the result was another bitter pill to swallow in a football season that’s been full of them for UAlbany.
A Great Danes team left shorthanded due to COVID-19 quarantines blew an 18-point halftime lead Saturday against William & Mary, then came within seven yards of erasing a 10-point fourth quarter deficit, but a pair of goal-line passes from quarterback Joey Carino — who got his first career start in place of Jeff Undercuffler — fell incomplete to send UAlbany to a 31-24 road loss.
“It’s one of the most devastating losses I’ve been part of as a football coach,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said in a postgame teleconference with reporters. “I just can’t put into words how hurtful it is and how tough it was.”
The Great Danes (0-3 CAA, 0-5 overall) announced prior to the game that it had “placed several members of its program” into protocols related to the novel coronavirus pandemic after a positive COVID-19 test result within the team’s personnel.
Individuals who were identified through contact tracing were placed into quarantine and did not accompany the team on its trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. The announcement did not specify the players who were involved in the quarantine, though Gattuso acknowledged postgame that wide receivers Roy Alexander and Mike Gray did not make the trip.
“Obviously, we were shorthanded with some people due to some other issues out of our control,” Gattuso said. “We played with the guys that were available.”
When asked if Undercuffler — who did travel and dress for the game — was healthy enough to play, Gattuso answered tersely, saying “No” when asked if the redshirt sophomore quarterback was available to play if called upon.
Asked if Undercuffler was injured, Gattuso replied, “I’m not going to get into this stuff. So, let’s just move on.”
Both Carino and running back Karl Mofor said that the freshman quarterback learned he’d be getting his first career start earlier during the week of preparation.
Carino started brilliantly, throwing a pair of first-half touchdown passes, while Mofor — who entered the game averaging 44.5 rushing yards through the Great Danes’ first four contests — surpassed 100 rushing yards and had a rushing and receiving touchdown by the time UAlbany headed to halftime with a 21-3 lead.
Then, things fell apart.
William & Mary (2-0, 4-1) reeled off 28 consecutive points as UAlbany dealt with a string of fumbles and special teams calamities, including a botched punt snap that the Tribe recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
“The beginning of the second half was an atrocity that we had trouble recovering from,” Gattuso said.
But, down 31-21 with eight minutes left, UAlbany had a rally left.
Carino, who briefly exited the game in the third quarter before returning, engineered a drive that resulted in a Dylan Burns field goal to make it a 7-point game with 4:58 to play.
After a UAlbany defensive stop, Carino drove the Great Danes to the William & Mary 7-yard line with six seconds left, but a pass to Thomas Greaney was incomplete before a throw to Tyler Oedekoven was broken up by the Tribe’s Ethan Yip as time expired.
“Up until that last pass, I thought we had a chance to score there and go for two and win the game,” Gattuso said. “It stings.”
Carino finished 17 of 27 passing for 244 yards and two touchdowns, while Mofor ran for a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
“We were trying to get a little spark with Joey,” Gattuso said. “But, there’s some things that are a little bit out of my control that you have to deal with as a head football coach. We trotted out everybody that we could today that was able to play. We just couldn’t get it done.”
UAlbany will be back home at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for the first time since Sept. 11 when it hosts a Villanova team that will be ranked in the top-10 nationally after beating James Madison 28-27 on Saturday to hand the Dukes their first CAA loss since Nov. 3, 2018.
UAlbany 7 13 0 3 — 24
Wm. & Mary 3 0 14 14 — 31
UA — Mofor 11 pass from Carino (Burns kick)
W&M — Chang 46 field goal
UA — Oedekoven 20 pass from Carino (Burns kick)
UA — Mofor 27 run (Burns kick)
W&M — Lucas 3 run (Chang kick)
W&M — Washington fumble recovery in end zone (Chang kick)
W&M — Pitts 11 pass from Wilson (Chang kick)
W&M — Lucas 3 run (Chang kick)
UA — Burns 25 field goal