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New Hampshire interim head coach Ricky Santos wasn’t exaggerating when he called Saturday’s contest at Albany a playoff game.
Both New Hampshire (5-4, 4-2) and Albany (6-4, 4-2) are in a similar situation with regard to the FCS playoffs: The winner of Saturday’s game will remain in the playoff hunt, and the loser, in all probability, will no longer be in the conversation.
With two weeks left in the regular season, Albany and New Hampshire are tied with Richmond for second place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings.
The Wildcats and Great Danes will each likely need to win their two remaining games to be part of the 24-team FCS playoff field. New Hampshire will play Maine at home next week. Albany will finish its regular season at Stony Brook.
“I think (the players) understand the magnitude of it, especially the upperclassmen who’ve been around and played in playoff games and games that have implications late in the season,” Santos said. “So they understand how big it is. For us, meaningful football in November is always the goal, and that’s what we have again this week.”
Albany coach Greg Gattuso said despite the playoff implications, his team is preparing this week like it does every other week.
“We don’t really change how we treat games,” Gattuso said. “We’ve been talking a lot about the man in the mirror and taking care of ourselves and doing our job. I think when we play our game we’re pretty tough. We’re excited about the game, but no more so than any time we play New Hampshire.”
The Top Dogs
You pick your poison when you try to defend the Albany offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler leads the country in touchdown passes (31), and running back Karl Mofor leads the CAA in rushing yards (921 yards on 190 carries) and rushing yards per game (92.1).
Mofor, who’s 15th nationally in rushing yards, passed the 100-yard mark for the sixth time last Saturday, when he ran for 132 yards in Albany’s 21-17 victory over Delaware. Undercuffler has completed 193 of 335 passes for 2,584 yards this season. He’s been intercepted seven times. Undercuffler’s top target is senior Juwan Green, who is tied for second among CAA receivers in touchdown catches (13) and ranks fifth in receiving yards (1,036).
“(Undercuffler is) a very good player,” Santos said. “With the new (NCAA) rule he was able to play in (four) games last year and still gain that redshirt. That helped him gain a ton of experience last year and he’s not playing like a sophomore or a redshirt freshman quarterback now. He’s playing like someone who’s been in this league for a long time.”
End Of The Line
Albany’s Eli Mencer, who moved from linebacker to defensive end this season, is second among CAA players in sacks (10.5) and leads the conference in tackles for loss (17), forced fumbles (five) and fumble recoveries (three).
“He’s the catalyst of the defense,” Gattuso said. “He makes a lot of big plays. … He’s really been disruptive for offenses.”
Albany leads the CAA with 22 takeaways (15 fumbles and seven interceptions). The Great Danes trailed 17-14 when they forced a Delaware fumble on the Albany 1-yard line in the third quarter of last Saturday’s triumph over the Blue Hens.
“When we’ve been good at turnovers, which many years we are, our kids are really into it,” Albany coach Greg Gattuso said. “It’s something we work on, like everybody. I credit our players -- their dedication to it. They believe it’s a difference in many games. We really work hard at protecting the football and turning other people over.”
New Hampshire punter Drew Sanborn sustained a knee injury during last weekend’s loss to James Madison and will not play Saturday. Santos said Jason Hughes, who handles the place-kicking duties, will punt against Albany.
Santos said it’s uncertain if Sanborn will be able to play again this season.