By Abe Avila, Staff Writer —
This past Saturday the Chattanooga Mocs found success in Birmingham as they beat Samford in a close one 35-27. Senior Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, Newark, N.J., stepped up and put on a monster performance for the Mocs.
Early in the contest, Chattanooga’s resilience was tested as Freshman running back and South Carolina native Ailym Ford went down with an injury. Ford has been a pivotal player for the Mocs all season and was 18 yards shy of UTC’s 42-year old freshman mark of 1,090 yards set by Mike Smith in 1977. However, Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks stepped in and had himself a day.
“I just told him to keep his head up and gave him some words of encouragement,” said Ibitokun-Hanks when asked if he spoke to Ford on the sideline. “I have been there before. To see him go down hurt, but I knew what I had to do for our running back crew to make sure we go out the right way.
Ibitokun-Hanks missed the previous four games with his own injury, but on Saturday against Samford, the senior transfer mustered three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving, finishing with 139 yards on 27 carries.
Senior quarterback Nick Tiano, Chattanooga, put UTC on the board first with a one-yard run. Samford responded on the following possession tying the game at seven.
The Defense played aggressive early in the contest. Junior D.J. Jackson, Fort White, Fla., picked off a pass in the endzone and UTC capitalized with an 80-yard drive that ended with Tiano hitting senior TE Chris James, Ellijay, Ga., for a one-yard score.
With a 28-7 halftime score, it seemed as though UTC was going to coast to a road victory, however Samford switched gears in the second half.
The Bulldogs scored on the opening possession of the second half. Samford then took advantage of a UTC fumble to cut the lead to 28-20 in the third quarter.
UTC put together another 75-yard drive, capped by a four-yard pass from Tiano to Ibitokun-Hanks for a 35-20 lead. Samford would cut the lead to 35-27 with just under a minute to play, but junior Bryce Nunnelly, Cleveland, TN., jumped on the on-side kick sealing a road victory for the Mocs.
While Ibitokun-Hanks had himself a strong day rushing, Tiano posted his first career 100-yard rushing game on 12 carries. He is the first UTC quarterback to run for 100 yards since Jacob Huesman had 129 on 15 carries against Fordham on Nov. 28, 2015. Both players combined for 239 yards rushing and contributed to all five UTC touchdowns.
Head Coach Rusty Wright provided an update to Ford’s Injury following the win.
“He hurt his knee. I don’t know. I have not see him since he got hurt, so we will look at that tomorrow and see what the deal is. He has to go to the doctor so I am not sure,” said Wright
Despite losing their high profile running back, the Mocs will remained strong and it did not go unnoticed in the eyes of Ibitokun-Hanks.
“It says so much. We have so much talent on this team, the most I have ever been a part of, so to see that one can go down and others can pick up the slack says a lot about our offense.” said Ibitokun-Hanks.
Next up UTC will play The Citadel on Sat., Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. for the team’s final home game of the 2019 season.