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CCSU Alone in First after Topping Danes
NEW BRITAIN — The irony wasn’t lost on Central’s football team. A year ago at Albany, the Blue Devils staged a stirring comeback, only to miss the would-be-tying two-point conversion with 55 seconds left. Saturday, Albany needed a two-point conversion to tie the game with 59 ticks on the clock.
This time, the Great Danes missed and Central had a great win.
An offensive pass interference call wiped out Albany’s first try at the conversion, and Central’s Ray Saunders tackled quarterback Vinny Esposito to stop the Danes’ second try as Central hung on for a 31-29 win before 3,698 raucous fans at Arute Field.
“The tables turn fast,” CCSU quarterback Aubrey Norris said. “We had to get this win.”
The win moves Central to 7-1 overall for the first time since 1973. It also gives the Blue Devils a 5-0 league mark and sole possession of first place in the NEC. The Devils now control their own destiny in the race for either a spot in the national playoffs or the Gridiron Classic. The win also ended Albany’s 18-game NEC winning streak.
“I think this is huge, but we have three more of them,” CCSU coach Jeff McInerney said. “This is great for this team… We never looked ahead. We never blinked. No one ever screamed or yelled or got down or nervous. We just kept on playing.”
The game was on the line in the final minute. Down 31-23, Albany (6-3, 5-1 NEC) went 74 yards on nine plays, with Esposito hitting Justin Gannon in the end zone from the 8 to pull the Danes within two with 59 seconds left. His two-point pass to Paul Booker was nullified when Booker was called for pushing off. On the second try, Esposito was hauled down by Saunders. The Danes got the ball back on an onside kick, but Saunders’ sack of Esposito helped stall their last drive.
“You can’t do it without all four defensive linemen,” Saunders said. “We rushed hard. We knew we had to make a play. I was just fortunate to be part of that. The credit goes to the whole line. All four of us made both of those plays.”
The Blue Devils needed big plays after a rough first half, but the second half started exactly as Central wanted. Trailing 23-14 and in need of a good drive, the Blue Devils converted three third downs on the way to the red zone. But Norris fumbled, turning an eight-minute drive into a turnover. Xavier High alum Alondre Rush, however, intercepted Esposito and brought it to the Danes’ 21, giving CCSU new life.
James Mallory turned that to a 14-yard score that cut the lead to 23-21 with 4:39 left in the third. After a stop, Norris hit Josue Paul for a 49-yard bomb on a third down, and Mallory later scored from the 1 as Central took a 28-23 lead in the third quarter’s final seconds.
A Joe Izzo kick from 28 yards out gave Central a 31-23 lead. Albany missed a field goal, but stopped Central to get the ball back for its final chance with about three minutes left.
Mallory had the second-best game of his career, going for 204 yards and three touchdowns.
“I felt good about the game the whole week,” Mallory said. “I just followed my blocks. I have to give all the credit to my offensive line. I did the easy part, running the ball. They did the hard part.”
Mallory made his first run of the game look easy. With Central down 6-0, Mallory went 79 yards on Central’s first play from scrimmage, and Central had the lead. Albany went 80 yards late in the quarter and into the second, but Central held the Danes to a field goal. Then the Devils built on that momentum, scoring on a reverse to Richie Martin from 10 yards out that gave the Devils a 14-9 lead with 6:36 left in the half.
Albany threatened to pull away late in the first half, outscoring Central 17-7 in the second quarter, with most of the damage coming in the last five minutes. A long pass to Tim Bush put Albany deep in Central territory, and Jason Poore caught a seven-yard scoring pass from Esposito to make it 16-14 Albany with left in the half. Paul fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and McCarty turned that miscue into a 10-yard touchdown run that gave Albany a 23-14 cushion at the break.
The Danes were unstoppable through the air early, with Esposito going 15-for-22 for 185 yards in the half. Central had nearly 200 yards of offense in the half itself, but had no answers for Albany’s passing game, which helped the Danes have 16 first downs in the opening 30 minutes to 7 for Central. But the Blue Devils hung around thanks the ground game. Mallory finished the half with 117 yards on nine carries, while Norris was 2-for-5 for 45 yards.
“That’s what we do, we run the football,” Mallory said.
As usual, the Devils rallied in the second half. This was their fifth win of the year in which they trailed at halftime. The Blue Devils are closers, however, running their record to 36-1 since 2004 when leading after three quarters.
CCSU alone in first after topping Danes
By MATT STRAUB, The New Britain Herald