Ike James and the Wabash College Little Giant football team rushed past Albion College Saturday afternoon, winning its 2017 season opener 35-26 Saturday afternoon and Hollett Little Giant Stadium in Crawfordsville.
James, a sophomore transfer from Saint Joseph College, ran through, around, and sometimes over the visiting Britons' defense to the tune of 238 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries. He rushed for the sixth-highest yards in Wabash history, joining the ranks of legendary runners Mason Zurek, Chris Morris, Bill Kaiser, Mike Henry, and the late Stan Huntsman as the only players to top 230 rushing yards in a game. James' 43 carries ranks fourth in Wabash single-game history.
"Kudos to the offensive line," Wabash head coach Don Morel said. "We actually lost our starting running back, Isaac Avant, on the first play of the game. We'll have to find out how he's doing. Ike James did a great job for his first game as a Little Giant. The offensive line was fantastic. We seemed to be able to control the ball when we wanted to and needed to. We made critical first downs on the ground."
The Little Giants ran the ball 72 times for 321 yards and five scores. James found the end zone three times. Bobby Blum added one rushing TD, finishing with 11 carries for 45 yards. Tyler Downing scored on a 2-yard run late in the second quarter to give Wabash the lead it would never relinquish.
The 72 carries is the second-most in team history and marks just the second time in 131 years of football at Wabash that the Little Giants have topped 70 carries in a game. Wabash rushed for a school-record 76 times against Washington University-St. Louis in 1970.
James gave Wabash the early lead with a one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but Albion (0-1) fired right back with a 24-yard field goal from Andrew Fabry and a touchdown pass from talented freshman quarterback Kyle Thomas provided the visiting Britons with a 10-7 lead. Downing's touchdown capped a nine-play, 55-yard drive and game Wabash the 14-10 halftime lead.
The third quarter belonged to Wabash statistically, but Albion still managed to stay close. The Little Giant defense limited their opponents to just 17 plays and 60 yards of total offense, but an interception led to a late score in the period for the Britons to cut the advantage to 10 points heading into the final period.
The teams traded touchdowns in the closing minutes of the game. Trailing by nine with 1:37 left to play, Albion managed a stop on fourth down after Wabash had already converted on four previous fourth-down attempts. The Britons marched all the way down to the 27-yard line before Wabash ended the scoring threat with an interception by senior safety Jeff Houston.
"I thought our defense did a good job," Morel said. "We put them in a bad situation twice. That should have never happened, and that's on us as coaches. But still, when they needed to make stops, they did. They had a run in the third quarter where it seemed like we stopped Albion three or four times in a row. Albion will score a bunch of points this year, there is no doubt about that."
Wabash outgained the Britons in total yardage 386-329, but ran 84 plays from offense compared to 56 for the visitors.
"This is really like a preseason game for us, although you know you have to win it. Now we know what we have to work on, who we are. Clearly we've got some issues in the passing game that we need to clean up. We'll fix those things."
Sophomore quarterback Weston Murphy earned his first career start. He finished 8-of-12 for 65 yards with a longest pass of 17 yards.
Thomas threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns for Albion and rushed for another 52 yards and a score.
"Weston managed the game well. He had only one goal today and that was win the football game. As a sophomore starting quarterback he is 1-0 at Wabash College and that's pretty good."
Evan Hansen paced the Wabash defense with nine tackles, six for solo stops. Byshup Rhodes made two of the Little Giants' four sacks.
Wabash (1-0) gets a one-week break before facing Kenyon College September 16 at home with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.