ALBANY — As if Friday wasn’t special enough already for Albany's Tyler Bates, the linebacker celebrating senior night decided to add another memory: His first defensive touchdown.
Bates stepped in front of a pass from Beau Chene freshman quarterback J’Kai Sharp, returning it 39 yards for a touchdown in Friday’s 21-7 win over the Gators.
“You couldn’t draw it up any better,” Albany coach Mike Janis said. “If anybody deserves to go out like that, it’s him. I think he was just able display his skill set, because he possesses that ability. People got to see his speed right there.”
It was Sharp’s first start of his career. It was one of Bates’ last.
“It was a very emotional night for sure. This is my last home game,” Bates said. “I saw the receiver on a slant route, and I felt like (Sharp) was going to throw it. So I made a step and I caught it for my first interception. It was one of the best feelings of my life.”
The game's first touchdown came courtesy of sophomore quarterback JaeJae Doherty, who snuck in from 5-yards out on a keeper. Bates’ big moment gave Albany a two-score lead in the third quarter, while an 84-yard pass from Doherty to Michael McCahill capped the Hornets’ offense for the night.
The Gators used a heavy dose of sophomore running back Russell Wheeler early in the game, but turned to the passing attack with less than one minute left in the first half. Sharp found receivers Adrian Eaglin and Frederick Breaux for a pair of big gains before a 42-yard attempt by Jake Doucet fell short as time expired in the second quarter.
The Gators made it to within a field goal twice more in the second half, but failed to put any points on the board before an interception by Lane Bergeron and an ensuing personal foul against Albany (5-4, 1-2 8-3A) set Beau Chene (1-8, 0-3 6-4A) up for their first touchdown, when Sharp found Eaglin in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.
Doherty was Albany’s most productive runner on the night, notching 96 yards on 14 carries. The quarterback also threw three interceptions to go along with his touchdown.
Beau Chene was led by Wheeler on the ground, who took 22 touches for 102 yards. Sharp found Breaux for a team-leading four receptions for 32 yards. McCahill led the Hornets with a pair of grabs for 90 yards and touchdown.
Sharp filled in for junior Jordan Alexander, who has started the majority of the season. Gators coach Sal Diesi said Sharp’s performance Friday made the starting quarterback position a little more gray.
“In JV, he wasn’t making the reads he needed to make, but tonight he threw the ball well,” Diesi said. “He was very composed, aside from the one pick where he zeroed in on that guy. He’s a freshman. He’s making my decision going into the final game really hard, with us maybe having to split quarterback snaps. [Alexander] can throw a dang good ball, just like he can.”