Opening a new season against an FBS opponent is a tall task for any FCS program, but Rhode Island took on the challenge with grit and character, and it nearly paid off.

Flying down to Atlanta, GA, the Rams squared off against Georgia State of the Sun Belt Conference to begin the 2023 season. Despite an impressive offensive display, particularly from quarterback Kasim Hill and receiver Kahtero Summers, the Rams couldn’t achieve the upset. A few failed stops on the defensive end dug the Rams a hole they couldn’t escape, returning to Kingston 0-1, courtesy of a 42-35 loss to the Panthers.

First Down: Hill With A Strong Start To Year 7

Following the decision to grant the quarterback an extension of eligibility waiver this summer from the NCAA, Kasim Hill announced his intention to return to Kingston for his 7th season of college football, and his third at Rhode Island.

With the announcement came great optimism from the Rhode Island fan base. Hill, who sits 3rd all-time for both passing yards and passing touchdowns in program history, is one of the few seniors who opted to return to Kingston following the 2022 season, rather than enter the transfer portal or NFL Draft. Many fans expect Hill to establish a strong relationship with receivers Kahtero Summers and Darius Savedge this year, on course to making a run for the FCS Playoffs.

And if Thursday night’s matchup is anything to go off of, Hill is all in for leading the Rams on a playoff push.

The former Maryland and Tennessee signal-caller finished Thursday night 24 for 40, throwing for 408 yards and four touchdowns. Hill also managed 17 rushing yards, including a five-yard rushing touchdown. Though the veteran did throw two interceptions, including one for a pick-six where he showed clear signs of a lower-body injury, Hill’s impressive offensive display gave the Rams hope throughout the night.

Though Rhode Island fans will be disappointed that the team came up just short of a memorable upset, Hill’s performance should invoke a great sense of excitement for what’s to come this season.

Second Down: Receiving Core Gives Fans A Taste of What To Expect

One of the true shining lights from the loss to Georgia St. was the performance put out by the Rhode Island receiving core. Hill targeted seven different receivers Thursday night, all of which racked up at least 10 receiving yards.

Senior wideout Kahtero Summers was Hill’s preferred target, recording seven receptions for 99 yards, including a 40-yard bomb in the first quarter to put the Rams in the red zone.

Receivers Darius Savedge and Marquis Buchanan made their presences known as well, as the duo combined for eight receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Savedge, a 2021 transfer from Old Dominion, was a handful for the Georgia St. secondary, making six catches for 88 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown in the third quarter to tie the game at 21.

Savedge wasn’t the only receiver to strut his speed for a massive gain, as Buchanan, a redshirt freshman, managed a whopping 101 yards on just two receptions. His first, a 28-yard touchdown pass from Hill, gave the Rams the lead in the third, before his second reception for 73 yards set up the Rams in the red zone ahead of Hill’s rushing score in the fourth.

Thursday night was the first-ever collegiate game for the Providence native. A graduate of Classical High School in Providence, expect Buchanan to make a big impact for this Rams team going forward.

Rounding off the receiving core, running back Gabe Sloat and wideout John Erby also contributed to the passing game with a touchdown each.

Third Down: Defense Solid, But Can Still Improve

Despite an impressive display from the offense, a few failed stops from the defense put the Rams in a hole they were unable to climb out of.

Georgia St. took control of the game early on, marching down the field following the opening kick-off, and scoring a touchdown with the opening 75 seconds of the game. After holding Rhode Island at bay for their own opening drive, the Panthers took the ball downfield once again, methodically playing each run and pass, before scoring once more to extend the lead to 14.

The Rams were being burned in the air and on the ground, as GSU quarterback Darren Grainger barely felt pressure, finishing the night with zero sacks and interceptions, while throwing for 193 yards and two touchdowns.

The biggest thorn in the side of Rhode Island Thursday night was Panthers’ running back Marcus Carroll. Carroll, a senior running back from Union City, GA, torched the Rams’ run defense, rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns. The running back averaged 8.0 yards per carry as the Rhode Island defensive line found it difficult to plug holes the 5’10 senior was exploiting.

In terms of top performers, defensive backs Emmanuel Gomes and Jordan Colbert had impressive performances, with the duo combining for 15 total tackles. Gomes led the team with eight total tackles, including seven solo and one tackle for a seven-yard loss.

Four Down: Officials Take Center Stage

Rhode Island are no stranger to controversial endings. If you look back to just 2022, the Rams were on the wrong end of a touchdown ruling vs the University of New Hampshire, a decision which all but caused the Rams to miss out on an FCS Playoff berth. Heading into Thursday night, however, nothing would have prepared fans for the bizarre way in which the Georgia St. contest would end.

With under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Rams are trailing by seven, and need to stop in order to regain possession and set up a possible game-tying or even game-winning drive. As Georgia St pushed further and further up the field, Rams Head Coach Jim Fleming was forced to burn his first timeout out. Following the break, the Panthers rushed the ball once more, this time for just five yards, placing them one yard short of the first down mark. It was 4th and 1 for Georgia St. and Rhode Island fans had their hearts in their throats, praying for one final stop to ensure a last gasp drive down field.

At this point, Fleming used his final timeout out to draw up a play. Once the 30 seconds had run out, it was all on the players. Following the snap, the Rhode Island defense swarmed and stuffed the ball carrier dead in his tracks. Rhode Islanders on the field were adamant that the ball did not cross the threadshold, and that it was a turn over on downs.

The officials, however, saw it differently.

In what is nowadays a rare sequence of events, the officiating crew brought out the chains to see if where the ball was placed had in fact crossed the threshold to be a first down. The officials measured once, seemingly make their decision, before stretching the chain out and measuring again. This time, however, in front of the watching world, the officials seemed to push the first down stick back, closer to the nose of the football, before ruling that the play resulted in a first down.

The Rhode Island players, coaches, and fans were understandably furious, even the play-by-play announcer was shocked by what he had just seen. The decision was further reviewed in the booth before the decision was made to uphold the call. The Panthers’ offense returned to the field, lined up in victory formation, and kneeled out to secure the win.

Despite what many Rhode Island fans will consider a gross miscarriage of justice from the officials, Coach Fleming was still able to see the positives post-game:

A loss certainly stings, especially one with an ending like Thursday night’s, but the Rams put forth a valiant effort against an FBS opponent, showing that this season could be a very special one in Kingston.

Next up for the Rams? Fleming & Co return to Kingston for Rhode Island’s home opener vs. CAA conference rival Stony Brook on Thursday, 9/8. It will be the first game of the season with students back on campus, so expect a lively atmosphere at Meade Stadium.