2023 Villanova vs UAlbany

CAA Notebook: UAlbany & Villanova Look Strong In The FCS Playoffs

CAA Notebook: UAlbany & Villanova Look Strong In The FCS Playoffs

UAlbany and Villanova put on dominant performances to advance to the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs.

Dec 5, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
CAA Notebook: UAlbany & Villanova Look Strong In The FCS Playoffs

Any number of contributors could be spotlighted as Most Valuable Player in UAlbany's 41-13 romp against Coastal Athlet Association counterpart Richmond in the 2nd Round of the FCS Playoffs: quarterback Reese Poffenbarger with two passing touchdowns and two rushing scores; AJ Simon with a pair of sacks; Bill Hackett for his 71-yard interception return; Griffin Woodell setting the pace with his early touchdown run. 

Another group that played a part in the winning environment was the Casey Stadium crowd, which Greg Gattuso praised for its energy. 

"That was the most into a football game, loud group of people: barking with our kids on the sideline and having a good time," he said. 

UAlbany's dominant win brings with a variety of historic milestones for the program. It marked the Great Danes' first-ever win over Richmond, gave UAlbany 10 wins for the first time since moving up to Div. I, and sends the team to its first FCS Playoffs quarterfinals. 

The atmosphere in the win also offers a positive outlook for UAlbany's long-term forecast beyond this postseason, as Gattuso explained. 

 "That's how you start a fan base. Success breeds attendance, and we need to continue to try to stack good seasons so our fans can get into it," he said. "That was a great environment. I know the numbers weren't high, but the fan involvement was outstanding." 

Fans who made it out for the postseason matchup witnessed what was arguably one of UAlbany's two best all-around performances this season. Considering the other was a 31-10 win over Villanova, which shared the CAA championship with UAlbany and Richmond, the Great Danes could claim a wholly unofficial but unique stake to the conference title. 


In a much more official capacity, UAlbany improved to 6-0 at home in 2023 with the win. The 2nd Round may have been the Great Danes' swan song at Casey Stadium for this campaign, unless CAA co-champion Villanova has something to say about it. 

The Wildcats, with their 45-28 win over Youngstown State that was much less competitive than the final score implies, travels to defending national champion South Dakota State for the quarterfinals. 

A Villanova win in Brookings and a UAlbany victory at Idaho would set up a rematch from the regular season, and another date at home for the Great Danes. 

For its part, Villanova closed out an undefeated home slate with its 2nd Round win. An opening drive of 83 yards against Youngstown State in which the Wildcats pounded the rock five times for 78 of the 83 yards needed to reach the end zone foreshadowed the kind of day Villanova could expect from its offensive line and ball-carriers. 

"That's pretty satisfying when you can get off to a fast drive like that. We'd like to not start inside our own 20; that comes down to the opening kickoff, we didn't do a great job with our assignment on that particular play so our backs are against the wall a little bit," Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said. "But for our offense to go out and be able to run the ball down the field on the opening drive, mix in a few passes here and there, and then to finish in the end zone, that's always a good tone-setter." 

Tone-setter, indeed. 

Jalen Jackson's touchdown run to cap the drive was one bookending rushing score of the five three different Villanova ball-carriers notched. DeeWil Barlee closed out the ground-game bonanza in the fourth quarter with his second rushing touchdown of the day, shortly after Connor Watkins became the third Wildcat to carry to pay dirt.

Villanova averaged six yards per carry as a team, with each of Jackson, Barlee and Watkins going for more than 50 yards. 

The varied and physical rushing attack setting up Watkins for a touchdown connection of 64 yards with Jaylan Sanchez was consummate Wildcats football. 

Coupled with the hard-hitting play of a defense that until late in the fourth quarter allowed just one touchdown to a Youngstown State offense that came in ranked among the highest-scoring in FCS,  the 2nd Round was Villanova at its best. 

Blocking Out Quarterfinal Berths 

In a 2nd Round with six games decided by 10-plus points, North Dakota State's 35-34 road upset of Montana State and Idaho's 20-17 comeback against Southern Illinois provided the day's drama. 

UAlbany very nearly got its seventh home game by virtue of Idaho's 2nd Round pairing with Southern Illinois, a game the Salukis never trailed until Richardo Chavez's game-winning field goal in overtime. 

The visiting Salukis broke a scoreless, first-quarter stalemate on the first of two Ro Elliott rushing touchdowns. The other came in the fourth quarter to break a 10-10 tie. 

Idaho needed a fourth-down conversion thanks to a pass interference call in the end zone to tie the game again with 4:17 remaining, then got huge plays from Xe'Ree Alexander with a blocked field-goal attempt to close out regulation; and Marcus Harris' interception on Southern Illinois' overtime-opening possession. 

With the win, Idaho is in the FCS Playoffs for the first time since reaching the Div. I-AA semifinals in 1993. North Dakota State, meanwhile, is in the quarterfinals for an incredible 14th consecutive season. 

The Bison's inevitability didn't seem so inevitable when they trailed late into the fourth quarter at Montana State, however. 

A TK Marshall touchdown run from 29 yards out with 2:33 remaining provided the necessary score to force overtime, when Cam Miller capped the extra frame's opening drive with a touchdown score. Montana State answered on the first play from scrimmage, but Hunter Poncius made a play on the extra-point attempt that deserves a place in the decade-and-a-half reel of remarkable postseason moments the North Dakota State program has stacked up. 

North Dakota State is the only team remaining in the field to have not been among the top-eight seeds. The Bison get the chance to avenge one of their regular-season losses in the quarterfinals against South Dakota. 

The Coyotes beat Sacramento State, 34-24, to advance to their first-ever FCS Playoffs quarterfinals. 

Championship Traditions and Newcomers to the Quarterfinals

South Dakota and UAlbany are outliers among the final eight as the only two programs having never advanced this far previously. Five of the other six have at least one national championship. 

Reigning champion South Dakota State claimed its first-ever title last season and North Dakota State has dominated the crown much of the last 12 years. Montana won national championships in 1995 and 2001, and was on the losing end when Villanova claimed its national title in 2009. 

Furman has the longest drought of the five past winner, having won its title in 1988. 

Idaho's never advanced further than the semifinals. In addition to 1993, the Vandals moved onto the semis in 1988 before a 38-7 loss at home to Furman on the Paladins' way to the championship.