The University of Rhode Island Rams football team dropped their home opener to the University of Albany Great Danes, 35-7 at Meade Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The Rams were trying to snap a four-game home opener losing streak, while Albany was looking to feed off of a 22-16 win over Buffalo, the school’s first ever victory against an FBS opponent. University of Rhode Island, 1-2 all-time against Albany entering Saturday’s game, was looking to secure their first win of the season after being on the receiving end of the University of Kansas’s first win in two seasons.
The scoring started late in the first quarter when Albany’s sophomore running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks rushed for a six-yard touchdown. He would continue to be a problem for the Rams, whose own star back, Harold Cooper, was limited due to an injury he sustained in last week’s game. Albany relied heavily on a remarkable afternoon by Ibitokun-Hanks, who rushed for 178 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns.
URI knows how instrumental its running back is to their offensive production, not only as a rusher, but as a receiving back and a special teams force as well. The coaching staff is hoping to expand his role in the coming weeks.
“We gave him a couple of plays to see what he could get done,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “Coop’s a recognized guy in this league and he’s been a huge part of our offense. As soon as that ankle is 100 percent we could get him back and going.”
Rhody’s rushing defense may not have played their best game, but their passing defense did their job. URI held Albany’s starting quarterback Neven Sussman to a 2-9 passing day, while throwing for just seven yards. The Rams had their own quarterback problems, but were able to stay with Great Danes in the early goings.
The team responded by piecing together an eight play, 71-yard drive resulting in a T.J. Anderson two-yard touchdown run with 8:38 left to go in the first half. With the score knotted at seven, the Great Danes were looking to reclaim the lead going into the break.
They moved the chains to the Ram’s 28-yard line where they faced a fourth and one situation with 27 seconds left on the clock. They handed the ball off to their go-to back Ibitokun-Hanks who ran it to the house to give them the 14-7 advantage going into the break.
“It’s a 7-7 ballgame and we got them at 4th and 1, before that it was 3rd and 8 or 3rd and 10 then they draw it and get it down to 4th and 1,” Fleming said. “We’re not getting the secondary fit. Lot of reaching and grabbing, not any finishes on tackles.”
The Rams received the ball to start the third, but went three and out. Costly mistakes were the story of the second half for URI, as penalties and the inability to gain momentum in the passing game quickly evaporated the team’s prospects of winning. After giving up Ibitokun-Hanks’ third touchdown the score was 21-7 and the game was starting to get away from the Rams. His triple-digit rushing games have become a norm for the Great Danes, as he has two 100-plus yard days in as many games on the season.
The Rams’ starting quarterback Wesley McKoy threw three total interceptions in the game and two in the fourth quarter that were returned for touchdowns.
The final of 35-7 was undoubtedly a disappointing outcome for the team and fans, especially given how the game started. The loss pushed Rhody to 0-2 to start the season.
Despite the outcome, Fleming did not look for any excuses to how his team played.
“Those are mistakes made by fundamentals, technique that we are responsible for coaching and they are responsible for executing,” Fleming said. “You go through that game and opportunities are there for you, but one thing begets another bad thing, the second half was atrocious.”
Fleming knows that he and his coaching staff will have to continue to work and not give up on the task at hand.
“People are waiting to see some change and we will continue to work our tails off to provide that change,” Fleming said.
The Rams will look for their first win of the season Friday night when they travel to Harvard to take on the Crimson at 7 p.m.