Albany sophomore running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks ran all over the UNH defense as the Wildcats blew a 22-0 lead on Senior Day and fell to the Great Danes 36-25.
Ibitokun-Hanks ran for three touchdowns and a school record 298 yards, 230 of which came in the second half. The Wildcats came out strong and led 22-0 with 2:56 remaining in the first half. Albany redshirt freshman quarterback Will Brunson made his first career start and commandeered a key touchdown drive before the end of the first half to cut the deficit to 22-7 at the break.
Brunson gave the Great Danes their first lead, 29-25, of the day with a four-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. Albany secured their 36-25 victory with Ibitokun-Hanks’ third rushing touchdown on a gutsy fourth-down call by head coach Greg Gattuso. On the UNH 13-yard line and needing to get one-yard for the first down, Gattuso trusted his star running back and Ibitokun-Hanks broke a Ryan Farrell tackle in the backfield en route to a 13-yard touchdown.
“I just didn’t want to kick the field goal,” Gattuso said about his decision to go for it on fourth down. “I wanted to give it to [Ibitokun-Hanks] and I have all the faith in the world to give it to him.”
The second half was dominated by Ibitokun-Hanks as he got it started with a 44-yard rush down to the UNH two-yard line on the second play of the third quarter. Two plays later Ibitokun-Hanks punched in his first touchdown from one-yard out to make it 22-14 UNH.
After a Morgan Ellman 20-yard field goal made it 25-14 UNH, Ibitokun-Hanks found the end zone on a two-yard rush to bring the Great Danes within three, 25-22, heading into the final quarter. The sophomore had three runs of 13 yards or more on the drive including a 33-yard dash to the UNH four-yard line to set up the touchdown.
The Great Danes cut the UNH lead to 22-7 with 34 seconds left in the first half with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brunson to Jordan Crockett. Brunson struggled early on with no completions in the opening quarter, but found his rhythm on the final drive of the half and finished with 146 passing yards, two total touchdowns and no turnovers.
“It’s a little bit disappointing because we emphasized that all week, how good [Ibitokun-Hanks] was,” defensive end Cam Shorey said after the game.
Junior running back Bryant set a career-high in rushing yards for the ‘Cats with 94 yards on nine carries before halftime and finished with 112 yards on 18 carries. After a failed fourth down attempt by the Great Danes, Bryant took the ‘Cats down the field with a 38-yard run to the Albany 2-yard line. A few plays later Bryant punched it in from 3-yards out for his third rushing touchdown on the season and a 22-0 UNH lead.
Quarterback Trevor Knight capped off an impressive 74-yard opening drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Crossan. Before leaving due to a concussion, Crossan ran for 37 yards on five carries and caught three passes for 39 yards and the touchdown.
Knight finished with 176 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception that came in the first quarter. Sophomore Rory Donovan led all UNH receivers with seven receptions, 79 yards and a touchdown that made it 15-0 UNH in the first half.
After a disappointing loss for head coach Sean McDonnell and the Wildcats, the regular season finale will be next Saturday, Nov. 19, as the Wildcats will travel to Orono, Maine to take on the Maine Black Bears in the 105th edition of the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket. UNH has won six straight against Maine and holds the advantage all-time in the series with a record of 53-43-8.
“All I’m worried about is going up there and playing against a really good football team,” McDonnell said about the upcoming rivalry matchup. “I want to go up there and play as best we can because we didn’t play as best we can today. I want to make sure we end the season on a good note.”