The University of Rhode Island football team ended their streak of futility in front of their home crowd Saturday by blanking the University of Delaware, 20-0, to earn their first shutout in 99 games.
Both teams boasted potent rushing attacks, but the Rams were able to exploit the apparent weaknesses of Delaware’s passing game, which was held to a measly 70 yards. The Rams’ secondary, which had surrendered over 400 passing yards the week before, made quarterback Joe Walker uncomfortable all afternoon.
URI junior safety Naiquan Thomas got the team off to a good start when he intercepted a pass in Delaware territory that turned into a 3-0 lead near the end of the first quarter after a 27-yard field goal by Justin Rohrwasser. The defense came up big again in the second quarter when freshman corner Akhema Evans thwarted a potential touchdown drive when he picked off Walker in the end zone. Linebacker Tez Wilson, also a freshmen, completed the hat trick of interceptions and stretched the lead to three possessions when he brought one back 25 yards for a touchdown. It was the first pick-six by a Ram since 2013.
“I think the defensive staff did a great job of putting a very simple game plan together and going out to execute,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “Those guys did a good job of taking what was available to us.”
When Delaware continued to look out of sorts in the fourth, victory became certain. The team was understandably excited as wins have been a rarity the last few seasons. The Rams had been steadily improving over the past few weeks and even had a fourth quarter lead against rival Brown University last week. Fleming felt that it was only a matter of time before his team was validated for their hard work and seemingly endless misery with an impressive victory. The unfamiliar feeling of triumph had him feeling relieved.
“Someone just gave me the game ball and I don’t really know what to do with it,” Fleming joked. “It’s been a lot of work, a lot of resilience, a lot of perseverance. We knew we were all making steps closer and closer to what we achieved today. It’s pretty spectacular to do what we did on the ground with the football. We got a couple of takeaways and I’m very happy and proud of this team.”
Offensively URI had some shortcomings, particularly with their practically nonexistent aerial attack. Junior quarterback Paul Mroz threw for just 90 yards on 9-of-22 passing, but he did not make any mistakes which was all the team needed. Delaware, on the other hand, made plenty, which included flags for bench misconduct, two missed field goals and a costly pass interference call near the end of the first half.
Although the Rams’ defense was instrumental to the favorable result, they received plenty of ammunition from sophomore halfback Harold Cooper, who weaved in and out of traffic for a career-high 123 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“I’m just seeing all of the holes,” Cooper said. “We have a lot of options, so whenever they make the call, I have to make sure I read it.”
URI (1-5) will look to prove that their win was not a fluke when they host the University of Richmond on Saturday for their annual Homecoming weekend game.