Fans and Students gather for the University’s first Rhody football game on the new turf against University of Delaware. Photos by Autumn Walter.

Rhody Loses Home Opener in Triple OT Thriller

The turf was set, the lights were on and Meade Stadium was brimming with a packed house to usher in a new era of football in Rhode Island.

The only issue, Jim Fleming and crew left the “W” at the door, as the No. 21 ranked Delaware Blue Hens played the part of villain coming back from a 13-point deficit in the second half to rip the hearts out of all in attendance donned in Keaney Blue. 

After opening their season with a loss in a buy game against FBS opponent Ohio University, the Rams relished the opportunity to start their CAA schedule off on the right foot for the second year in a row with a matchup against conference foe Delaware. The stands were filled to capacity and then some, with 8,511 in attendance for the first night game at Meade Stadium since 1972. 

The Rams started this one like a team possessed. The ball was humming through the air on offense, the offensive line was winning the battle in the trenches and the defense came out flying, forcing turnovers and pressure at the point of attack. In the first half, Rhode Island jumped out to a two score advantage with two field goals by C.J. Carrick in the first and second quarters before an Ahmere Dorsey touchdown run midway through the second lifted URI to a 13-0 advantage. 

The story of the first half for Rhody was unfortunately the inability to respond off of turnovers forced by their defense. A Malik Wilder interception of Pat Kehoe less than a minute into the contest set Rhode Island up on the Blue Hens 42 yard line. Rhody was unable to capitalize, going for it on fourth and one by way of a Zoe Bryant run that was stuffed for a turnover on downs. 

With under three minutes to go in the first quarter Kehoe was intercepted again, this time by Branyan Javier-Castillok, who returned the pick to the Delaware 20 yard line. The Rams ensuing offensive possession lasted eight plays going only 11 yards and ended with a Carrick 25 yard field goal, a second missed opportunity for URI.

These missed opportunities would come back to haunt URI in the second half when the Delaware offense came alive. With just over seven minutes left in the third quarter a 66-yard touchdown strike from Kehoe to wideout Chichi Amachi put the Hens on the board and pulled them within one score. After a URI three and out Delaware took their first lead of the game, scoring a touchdown in back-to-back possessions with Kehoe throwing another touchdown pass, this time a 21 yard dart to Bryce De Maille. 

The Rams did a terrific job of hanging tough against Delaware, responding with a touchdown pass from Vito Priore to arguably the best FBS receiver in the country in Aaron Parker halfway through the fourth quarter to take a 19-14 advantage. The Rams failed on their two-point conversion attempt and had a five point lead with only eight minutes of game time left. The next Delaware possession was one of the more methodical “pro style” drives you will see at the collegiate level, with Quarterback Pat Kehoe engineering a 12 play, 68 yard touchdown drive that lasted six minutes and 48 seconds. After they converted on their two point conversion try the Blue Hens had a three point advantage with only 1:14 remaining on the clock. A quick six play drive by the Rams got Kicker C.J. Carrick a 44-yard field goal attempt, which he split the uprights with to force overtime. 

Through the first two overtime periods both teams scored touchdowns, gashing their opponents defenses quickly. The Hens started the third and final overtime with the ball and punched in one final score by way of a Will Knight touchdown run. Rhode Island was able to work the ball down to the Delaware three-yard line with a chance to force a fourth overtime, before quarterback Vito Priore threw an interception on fourth and goal to Justis Henley to give Delaware a 44-36 win in what was an absolute barn burner.  

“To take an early season loss in the CAA is something that we’ll have to overcome,” said Head Coach Jim Fleming. “That’s football. The next one up is New Hampshire. I have zero, zero concern about how these kids will bounce back.”

To the casual fan, this may appear to be the same old Rhode Island football. A program that will always be mired in its own ways. A team that simply can not and will not be able to take a necessary jump from longshot underdog to mainstay atop one of the best FCS football conferences in the nation, the Colonial Athletic Association. 

The fact of the matter is that culture is already changed. While the result wasn’t there Saturday night, the Rams are still a team with legitimate talent who truly believe they can win. 

They have a coaching staff with purpose led by Jim Fleming. They are now a program with support from their University for the first time in a long time and a team that proved they belong on the field with anyone Saturday night. All that’s left for them to do is shake off the loss, tighten up their chin straps and get ready for the rest of the season. Rhode Island football isn’t dead in the water, their 2019 campaign is just beginning.