Career day for UAlbany’s Ibitokun-Hanks

Great Danes back in win column
Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks ran for a career-best 210 yards on 35 carries to lead the University at Albany to a 27-3 victory over Elon Saturday at Casey Stadium.
Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks ran for a career-best 210 yards on 35 carries to lead the University at Albany to a 27-3 victory over Elon Saturday at Casey Stadium.

University at Albany’s offensive game plan was simple, direct and effective: Give the ball to Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks over and over again and then get out of the way.

The 5-foot-9, 199-pound sophomore tailback pounded, spun and occasionally sprinted to a career-best 210 yards on 35 carries, including a three-yard touchdown burst, to power the Great Danes to a convincing 27-3 victory over Elon in a Colonial Athletic Association football game Saturday afternoon on Bob Ford Field at Casey Stadium.

The win boosted the Great Danes’ record to 2-3 in the CAA and 5-3 overall. It also snapped a three-game losing streak.

When Ibitokun-Hanks wasn’t demoralizing Elon’s defense, the Great Danes’ defense was often doing the same to the Phoenix’s offense with a pair of scores of its own. Julian Cox returned a fumble recovery 12 yards for one TD, and Rayshan Clark returned an interception 36 yards for another.

Josh Wynn, Michael Nicastro and Jamal Robinson combined for 25 tackles, and punter Jon Martin constantly kept the Great Danes’ offense out of trouble with five punts for a 41.0 average.

“For the most part, I thought we played well. We certainly ran the ball exceptionally well,” Gattuso said. “I’m glad we finally got a win, and it was a big conference win for us. It was nice to get back home.”

UAlbany’s offense wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be with Ibitokun-Hanks carrying the ball so well. Quarterback Neven Sussman completed just five of nine passes for only 34 yards, but the Great Danes piled up 288 yards on the ground.

“Thirty-five carries is probably too many, but we’re going to give the ball to [Ibitokun-Hanks], and everybody knows it,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “When he’s running like that, and the line is blocking like that, we’re going to give him the ball. He’s a tough kid.”

Ibitokun-Hanks said he was none the worse for the wear and actually enjoyed the physical part of the game.

“We stick with what we know,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “I just wanted to keep going. You want to let your team know you are here for them. Just being around these guys, I’ve learned that physicality is important.”

Entering the game, Ibitokun-Hanks was the second-leading rusher in the CAA with 771 yards and averages of 110 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. With his seventh career game of 100 rushing yards or better, he padded those statistics considerably.

UAlbany took the first possession of the game 60 yards and capped the drive with a

23-yard field goal by Ethan Stark. Ibitokun-Hanks stretched the Great Danes’ advantage to 10-0 with his TD run that ended a nine-play,

72-yard drive with 7:50 left in the first half.

Elon (1-4, 2-6) finally got on the board with 33 seconds left in the half on John Gallagher’s 24-yard field goal.

But UAlbany clinched the game with a pair of defensive scores in the second half.

Cox, a redshirt sophomore linebacker and the CAA’s co-Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, scooped up Elon QB Daniel Thompson’s fumble and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown with just 49 seconds left in the third period.

“It was a big play,” Cox said. “I was at the right place at the right time. On the play before, Jamal [Robinson] almost stripped the running back. Coach told us to just get another one. We were chasing the running back, and I saw the ball on the ground. I just picked it up and ran it in. When I was in the end zone, nobody was celebrating, so I wasn’t sure it counted. It was a lot of fun.”

After another Stark field goal pushed the UAlbany advantage to 20-3 with 9:49 remaining, the Great Danes sealed the win just 40 seconds later when Clark, a senior cornerback, stepped in front of a pass in the flat by backup quarterback Conor Hughes and returned the interception for another score.

“I really give credit to the coaching staff,” Clark said. “It was preparation all week, knowing what they like to run. It was third-and-short, and I just sat there. I jumped the route and took it 36 yards for the TD.”

The Great Danes host Delaware Saturday at 1 p.m.

Elon 0 3 0  0  — 3

UAlbany 3 7 7 10 — 27

UA – Stark 23 FG.

UA – Ibitokun-Hanks 3 run (Stark kick).

E – Gallagher 24 FG.

UA – Cox 12 fumble recovery (Stark kick).

UA – Stark 20 FG.

UA – Clark 36 interception return (Stark kick).

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