The University of Rhode Island football team fell to the No. 14 Elon Phoenix, 35-34, on Saturday.
With just 28 seconds left in regulation, the Rams were on the Elon 17 yard line and trailing by one. Coming out of an Elon timeout, Rams quarterback JaJuan Lawson dropped back to pass and his ball was intercepted by Elon’s Warren Messer. This secured the Elon victory, 35-34.
As the Rams were a field goal away from a victory, speculation on why Fleming decided to throw the ball versus running rose. Rams kicker and freshman, C.J. Carrick, had missed an extra point earlier in the game and had connected on just four of eight field goal tries this season.
“Obviously the safe call is to run it and kick it,” Fleming said. “We chose not to do that and thought it was a safe call. The only thing that can’t happen in that situation happened. If it worked out the way we had it designed to, it’s all good and we have a chance to get a first down and another couple shots and not put it on a freshman kicker to win the game.”
With Rams head coach Jim Fleming electing to start Lawson, the backup quarterback and transfer from the University of New Mexico, starter Tyler Harris was moved to the bench.
This game had all the makings of being a program changing victory for the Rams. A nationally ranked opponent, a crowd of over 7,000, Homecoming and alumni weekend, the atmosphere at Meade Stadium was electric.
What was happening on the field was indicative to the atmosphere for the first 59 minutes and 32 seconds. The Rams had a lead at halftime over the Phoenix. The Rams had beat the Phoenix last season on the road, 44-14. The win and dominating performance had come just two weeks after the Rams suffered the worse loss in program history; a 84-7 loss James Madison University.
Fast forward to Saturday’s game. The Rams were coming off a 51-27 loss against the University of Maine, and were still in search of their first win in conference play. Rhode Island did show some signs of promise. Freshman punt-returner, Matt Pires brought a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown, the longest punt return in school history. Pires was named CAA Special Teams Player of the Week.
Lawson proved that his mobile style approach at quarterback is capable of moving the ball. Thirty-four points is the most points put up this season for the Rams offense. Lawson finished the day completing 20-34 passes for 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and an interception while also adding 80 yards on the ground.
Fleming took responsibility for the loss and said his quarterback is not at fault. “He [Lawson] played a great game,” Fleming said. “You cannot blame it on JaJuan. There were a number of opportunities to win that football game. As the head coach, I’ll shoulder the whole thing.”
Fleming added that the quarterback position will be determined based on who, either Lawson or Harris, gives the team the best chance to win every week.
The Rams have now lost four straight games. Their last victory, a 17-10 upset over the Harvard Crimson, came on Sept. 16. The heartbreaking loss on Saturday keeps Rhody winless in CAA play with the best of their schedule still on the horizon. The Rams head to Albany this weekend and then return home for two contests against JMU and Villanova.