The Rhode Island Rams took on the New Hampshire Wildcats at home in Meade Stadium on Saturday, losing by a score of 39-17 in a game that seemed promising for the Rams until they faded in the second half.
Quarterback Paul Mroz got the start over Wesley McKoy who had started the past three games, but was benched during last week’s game. The Rams were within just five points in the game’s latter half, but UNH was able to add a couple scores to pull away late.
Both defenses came out strong, forcing a three-and-out for both offenses. The Wildcats drew first blood through the air with a 22-yard strike from Trevor Knight to Neil O’Connor, but URI came back and responded with help from Harold Buckner III, who caught three balls for 50 yards. T.J. Anderson finished off the drive with a one-yard run for the score.
The Wildcats, similar to how Albany gained momentum against URI a couple weeks back, enjoyed a go-ahead drive with five minutes left in the half. Trevor Knight gave UNH back the lead by way of a one-yard run, and then opted to successfully go for the two-point conversion. The Rams weren’t able to put the ball in the end zone in the second quarter, but did put the ball in the hands of Buckner, who ended a big half with six receptions for 108 yards. The Mroz-Buckner connection proved to be the first time a any real rapport has been established between a quarterback and receiver this season.
“Paul and I had a great week of practice,” Buckner said. “We were focused all week, we have been building chemistry ever since training camp.”
Despite his productive afternoon, Buckner did have a major miscue, as he fumbled while diving for the goal line.
On the defensive side, lineman Jose Duncan finished the half with four tackles and two sacks.
The Rams came out of the half strong and were able to put three more points on the board, cutting the deficit to five. Once again though, the Wildcats answered back and sunk URI’s momentum with a three- yard run by Trevon Bryant for the touchdown.
URI’s offense was stagnant for most of the half until Mroz came up big with a 12-yard run to pull the rams within eight with nine minutes left in the game. The sign of hope quickly went away however, as URI continued their trend of losing the ground they had just gained. UNH was able to put another score on the board after Knight connected with a 12-yard pass O’Neil. They plunged the dagger into the Rams just over a minute later, forcing junior running back Markey Clarke to fumble a ball that was returned for a 10-yard touchdown.
It was another difficult loss for the Rams, and one that brings with it more frustration as head coach Jim Fleming knows the team had their chances.
“I thought we made strides toward becoming a good football team, but the taint is the ugliness at the end of the game,” Fleming said. “The fumble near the goal line, the penalties to put us back in that situation, those are unacceptable.”
The final score alluded to a blowout, but it was another instance of what appeared to be a competitive URI performance, but due to inopportune defensive breakdowns and offensive droughts, the Rams found themselves remaining winless after a month of games. Fleming is waiting for his team to put it all together for the entirety of a game.
“I was impressed by the performance of our football team,” Fleming said. “There were obviously deficiencies I was very disappointed in, and we found a way to have it unfold.”
Mroz had a solid day throwing the ball, finishing 15-of-29 with 249 passing yards and one interception, while also getting 52 yards on the ground. He did leave the game late in the fourth quarter due to a knee injury he incurred following a hard hit on the sideline while going out of bounds. He was replaced with Jordan Vazzano who completed 3-of-10 passes for 61 yards. Mroz’s health status could lead to an ongoing quarterback dilemma for the Rams, but if he is able to go next week, Fleming might again be inclined to hand the reigns over to the senior.
“I was really happy with his performance,” Fleming said. ”I think he came in and really delivered the ball well, I thought there were some things in the second half that he didn’t make the right choices.”
Linebacker Ezra Holmes led the way defensively, recording 12 total tackles and one sack
Rhode Island falls to 0-4 while New Hampshire improves to 2-2. The Rams will host Brown University this Saturday in the always anticipated Governor’s Cup at 12 p.m.