ALBANY – During the summer’s 7-on-7 league play, Albany football coach Mike Janis said his team couldn’t get comfortable relying on Rhett Wolfe’s ability to come up with big scoring catches.
It’s safe to say he had no problem re-thinking that a little bit in Friday’s season opener against Independence.
Wolfe scored three touchdowns – one on a kickoff return and two on long pass plays – and had an interception in the third quarter to help Albany score 26 unanswered points, outlasting the Tigers 68-44 on Friday at Jessie Fletcher Memorial Stadium.
“That wasn’t the game plan coming in, but we’re smart enough, I would hope, to take what they’re giving us, and that’s what we felt confident in, so it changed,” Janis said. “We’ve got to adjust on the fly.”
It was part of a game that saw the teams combine for 68 points in the first half, with the Hornets leading 36-32.
“The third quarter was huge, but just continuing to respond in the first half was big for us because we could have got frustrated with them continuing to score,” Janis said. “Hat’s off to those guys. They did a great job throwing the ball. I’m going to have nightmares about slant routes.”
Wolfe’s big quarter got started soon enough, scooping the second-half kickoff off the ground and racing 80 yards for a touchdown, putting the Hornets up 43-32 just 14 seconds into the second half.
“It went right over the guy in front of me, and I had to pick it up and I saw grass, so I just ran,” Wolfe said.
Following an Independence punt, Albany (1-0) padded the lead on JJ Doherty’s 2-yard TD run, pushing the lead to 50-32. The score was set up by a 31-yard run by Dae Dae Doherty.
Wolfe’s interception of Darionte Ginn on the fourth play of the next Tiger drive, along with an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Independence, set up Wolfe’s 59-yard TD catch from JJ Doherty, making the score 56-32.
“They were beating us all night on the slant, so they moved me to the opposite side on the single receiver to try to stop that, then they started going to the other side, so we started playing inside leverage, and that’s what happened,” Wolfe said of the interception.
Wolfe, who had four catches for 165 yards, explained the touchdown catch this way:
“The safety came down, and we made that play like two days ago, and it came up in our minds,” he said. “Me and J.J. just have that connection. We know when to go for the long ball.”
After another Independence punt, Wolfe broke a 15-yard run, and hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass from J.J. Doherty three plays later, making the score 62-32 with 3:04 to play in the third quarter.
“Our guys felt confident in our offense, so every time we got the ball, they knew we were going to score,” Janis said. “Even if we didn’t, it was in their mind that we were going down the field and scoring. I think that was the biggest thing to keep the momentum, for us to keep up the pace of the game. We continued to tempo them at the sake of the fans and everybody here. I don’t think LSU’s game will last this long … but that’s what we’re going to do, so concessions need to double-stock next week, and we’re going to tempo people. We’re going to throw the football. I’d like a little more efficiency, but we were able to be efficient enough on enough consecutive drives to come out with a win.”
Janis started to empty his bench with just over a minute to play in the third quarter, and the younger players responded when Reece Wolfe scored on a 31-yard keeper to expand the lead to 68-32 with 5:46 to go in the game.
“Getting those live reps under the lights on Friday nights is going to do them wonders,” Janis said of his younger players. “It’s always great. Victory (formation) is the best play in football. Any time we can get those guys on the field because we want to and not because we need to, it’s a good night.”
Independence (0-1) scored the game’s final two touchdowns on a 32-yard run by McDowell and a 44-yard run by Ginn, the last of which came with 1:35 to play after the Hornets lost a fumble.
Before Albany’s big third quarter, finding the end zone wasn’t a problem for either team as the Tigers got the scoring avalanche started on Jalen Oliver’s 94-yard kickoff return to open the game.
Albany returned the favor when J.J. Doherty busted a 60-yard TD run on the Hornets’ third snap of the game, and Orlando Pineda’s PAT made the score 7-6.
“We just saw that we could take advantage of it, and we just kept running it,” J.J. Doherty said of his running plays. “It was there every time. I knew were going to have some successful plays, but not like that.”
J.J. Doherty had 10 carries for 144 yards and went 8-for-17 for 226 yards passing, helping the Hornets to 492 yards of total offense.
Independence, which had 423 yards of total offense, responded with a 79-yard TD pass from Ginn to Markendrick Andrews, putting the Tigers ahead 12-7.
J.J. Doherty hit Michael McCahill for 24 yards on fourth-and-7 from the Independence 28 on the next Albany drive, setting up JJ Doherty’s 4-yard TD run for a 14-12 Albany lead.
Independence’s next drive was extended by a running into the kicker penalty and a pass interference call, setting up Ginn’s 3-yard keeper, giving the Tigers an 18-14 lead.
McCahill’s 75-yard return for a score on the ensuing kickoff and his run on the two-point conversion put the Hornets up 22-18 in a first quarter that lasted 50 minutes.
A 19-yard punt by the Hornets in the second quarter gave the Tigers the ball at the Hornet 40, and a pass interference call against Albany set up Ginn’s 26-yard keeper for a touchdown, putting the Tiger up 24-22.
McCahill returned the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to the Tiger 47, where JJ Doherty connected with McCahill for 21 yards and Rhett Wolfe for 13, setting up Dae Dae Doherty’s 8-yard TD run, helping the Hornets to a 29-24 lead.
But Oliver’s 53-yard TD run over the right side put the Tigers ahead 32-29 with 7:45 to play in the first half.
Rhett Wolfe lost a fumble at the Independence 5 on the next possession, but a 36-yard punt return to the Tiger 17 set up Dae Dae Doherty’s 9-yard TD run for a 36-32 Albany lead with 2:06 to play in the first half.
ALBANY 68, INDEPENDENCE 44
Score By Quarters
Independence 18 14 0 12 -- 44
Albany 22 14 26 6 -- 68
IHS -- Jalen Oliver 94 kickoff return (run failed)
ALBANY – J.J. Doherty 60 run (Orlando Pineda kick)
IHS – Markendrick Andrews 79 pass from Darionte Ginn (run failed)
ALBANY – J.J. Doherty 4 run (Pineda kick)
IHS – Ginn 3 run (run failed)
ALBANY – Trey Yelverton 75 kickoff return (Michael McCahill run)
IHS – Ginn 26 run (run failed)
ALBANY – Dae Dae Doherty 8 run (Pineda kick)
IHS – Oliver 53 run (Ginn run)
ALBANY – Dae Dae Doherty 9 run (Pineda kick)
ALBANY – Rhett Wolfe 80 kickoff return (Pineda kick)
ALBANY – JJ Doherty 2 run (Pineda kick)
ALBANY – Rhett Wolfe 59 pass from JJ Doherty (run failed)
ALBANY – Rhett Wolfe 61 pass from JJ Doherty (kick failed)
ALBANY – Reece Wolfe 31run (run failed)
IIHS – Fred McDowell 32 run (pass failed)
IIHS – Ginn 44 run (pass failed)
First Downs 17 19
Rushes-Yards 34-286 32-266
Passing Yards 137 226
C-A-I 6-15-1 8-17-0
Punts-Avg. 4-35.25 1-19
Fumbles-Lost 5-1 3-2
Penalties-Yards 13-105 9-78