The Governor’s Cup is back in Kingston for the first time since 2010 after the University of Rhode Island’s 28-13 win over Brown University on Saturday at Meade Stadium.
Entering the game 0-4, the Rams were hungry for their first win of the season. Brown, coming off a 32-22 loss to Ivy League rival Harvard, was looking to improve their record to 2-1.
URI head coach Jim Fleming elected to start third-string quarterback, Jordan Vazzano. Vazzano, Rhody’s sixth starting quarterback in Fleming’s three-year span at the helm, would replace senior quarterback Paul Mroz, who exited last week’s loss to New Hampshire late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. The revelation that Mroz will miss the remainder of the 2016 season is one that, according to Fleming will propel Vazzano into the starting role going forward.
“He (Mroz) is done for the season,” Fleming said. “Very disappointing for him, a really sad finish for him. He had shown some really good promise last week, but we will move on.”
Despite the win, Vazzano struggled against Brown. He completed 4-of-24 passing for 42 yards with an interception and a touchdown.
The Rams offense relied heavily on the running game, in particular the re-emergence of junior back Harold Cooper. Cooper, a bright spot for the struggling Rams over the last season, has been nursing an injury from the opener against Kansas. Cooper appeared to be in old form, rushing for 135 yards on 18 attempts with a pair of 35+ yard touchdown runs. Junior running back T.J. Anderson added a 39-yard day with a touchdown.
Brown would score on the opening drive of the game, forcing URI to again play from behind. The Bears’ senior quarterback Kyle Moreno connected with wide receiver/punter Alex Jette for a seven-yard touchdown. However, the extra point snap was high so the Bears would have to settle for six points. Mid-way through the first quarter, the Bears had a 6-0 lead over the Rams.
Rhode Island would respond quickly. On their next drive, Vazzano connected with tight end and team captain Charlie McKeeman for a 10-yard touchdown. This capped off a nine play, 80-yard drive. After the extra point attempt, the Rams would take a 7-6 lead over their in-state rival.
The Rams still held the lead for the first 13:58 of the second quarter, but with just 1:02 left in the first half Vazzano’s only interception of the game was returned for a Brown touchdown by linebacker Will Twymann. The Rams trailed 13-7 at the half.
URI had experienced a similar situation earlier this year when they went into the half down 14-7 to the University of Albany. They would go on to lose that game 35-7, not scoring any second half points.
However, the latter half on Saturday afternoon saw a breakthrough and a change of returns for Rams. The defense held the Bears to zero second-half points.
On Brown’s first drive of the half, URI defensive back Momodou Mbye recovered a fumble at the Brown six-yard line, setting the Rams up for a three-yard touchdown run by Anderson. With 12:05 left to go in the third quarter, the Rams, to the apprehension of the Rhody Faithful, maintained a 14-13 lead over Brown.
The Rams put the game away in the middle of the fourth quarter with the help of Cooper, who ended two consecutive Rhode Island drives with back-to-back touchdown runs. The defense stood tall in the last eight minutes and the Rams walked away with their first win of the season as Governor’s Cup Champions. The final, 28-13.
“It is a great victory,” Fleming said. “It was an expectation. There is an expectation that if you continue to work a program and work a process, then eventually things will come together. It is the biggest win we have had since I have been here.”
Fleming’s joy, and perhaps relief, was shared by his team. Charlie McKeeman, a Rhode Island native, was thrilled after the victory.
“I am a Rhode Island kid and have been watching this game for a long time,” McKeeman said. “This is a huge win. Coach emphasizes this game the first day of the offseason; this is a game we circle on our calendars. Hopefully the win can keep us going into next week.”
The Rams (1-4) will hope to be fueled by the victory when they take on Villanova (4-1) on the road next week. The Rams return to Meade Stadium on Oct. 22 to take on Maine in the annual homecoming game.