In the FCS Huddle: Albany makes statement in Ford's 250th victory

With more than 42 years on the sidelines, Bob Ford has coached all types of games at almost every level that NCAA football has to offer.

Engineering the Albany football program's rise from the club level in 1970, to its varsity debut in 1973 in Division III to Division II in 1995 and then joining the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) before the 1999 season, Ford has seen more than his fair share of football games.

However, that lengthy resume doesn't include an FCS playoff game and this year's Great Danes would like nothing more than to give the veteran coach that opportunity.

"Every kid wants to get there," running back Andrew Smith said. "There is a banner in our weight room with all the NCAA appearances, basketball has got two, volleyball has a couple and then football is just blank, nothing there. I look at that every time I go in the weight room."

Saturday, Smith and his teammates took another step toward securing that elusive playoff berth and adding "2011" to the football column of the banner, as Albany used a fast start to defeat Northeast Conference rival Duquesne 38-10.

"It was big because they were ranked at the top (of the NEC) for offense and defense, and if you look at the (projected) bracket they are picked to win our conference and play Montana in the first round," Smith said. "This was a game that if there was any doubt in your mind, we proved we wanted to win that conference championship."

It also gave Ford, the active leader for FCS coaches, his 250th career victory.

"Someone on the field said, 'What do you have to do to get this?'" Ford said. "For one, you have stick around for a long time and nowadays that's tough in this business. Second of all, you have to surround the program with good coaches who can teach, I think we've done that."

Not only was it Ford's 250th career win, but it also put his team on the inside track to win its fifth NEC title - which for just the second time in conference history comes with an automatic FCS Playoff berth.

Albany controls its own destiny. The Great Danes host NEC defending champion Robert Morris next weekend and a win could be an early lock on the conference crown if the expected teams -- Robert Morris, Albany, Duquesne and Central Connecticut State -- are still on top of the standings come late November.

With a win against the Colonials, the Great Danes would hold the tiebreaker (head-to-head) over Duquesne and Robert Morris, while Central Connecticut State already has two losses.

It's a scenario that also requires the Great Danes to take care of business in the rest of their conference games. However, if Saturday's win against the Dukes is any indication, that shouldn't be a problem.

"We knew that if we beat these guys and beat them the way we did it would send a message," quarterback Dan Di Lella said. "We wanted to send out a message to the conference that Albany is a team to be reckoned with."

Opening the game with an efficient attack, the Great Danes scored on their first three possessions. Piecing together drives of 57, 27 and 82 yards - Albany's best start to a game this season.

"The only word to describe it is electric," Di Lella said. "You could feel it on the sidelines. Everyone is just buzzing, jumping around and you just want to keep that going for as long as we can."

"That first quarter might of been as good of a first quarter that we've ever had," Ford said. "We excelled on offense, we stuffed them on defense and played well on special teams."

Despite the quick start, Albany's offense did take a step back in the middle quarters, before responding with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to put the exclamation point on Ford's monumental victory.

Even with some second and third-quarter setbacks, the offense finished with an impressive 29 first downs and 493 total yards (301 rushing, 192 passing) and was 6-for-6 in the red zone.

While the offense had a minor cold streak, the Albany defense was dominant from the opening kick to the final whistle, forcing five turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble) and limiting the Dukes to just 235 yards of total offense.

Playing whistle-to-whistle was important for the Great Danes, especially since they've struggled to do so in the past.

"In the first game, Colgate, we had a pretty good lead and then all of sudden Colgate came back. And last year against Central Connecticut we had a pretty good lead in the first half and they came back," defensive tackle Zach Gallo said. "Us seniors brought everyone in the middle and said, 'Listen, there is one thing we have to do as a team and that is finish the game.' We needed to remember good teams play great halves, but great teams finish games."

And perhaps, Albany is just that.