KINGSTON, R.I. — “We beat Maine.”
Those were the first words uttered by Rhode Island Head Coach Jim Fleming following the Rams’ come from behind 26-22 victory last Saturday over the Black Bears at Meade Stadium.
Maine has been a monkey on Rhode Island’s back in recent history, with the Black Bears emerging victorious in the previous 14 matchups. Thanks to the play of redshirt seniors Kasim Hill and Ed Lee, the Rams snapped a losing streak dating back to 2006.
Hill’s close-knit relationship with his wide receiver was on full display, as he connected with Lee eight times on the day. All the while, no other player for Rhode Island registered more than one catch. Ed Lee had himself a day, registering a career-high 190 receiving yards along with a score.
The importance of the chemistry with his quarterback was not lost on Lee, “We’re always on the same page. If I do something wrong, he’ll get on me. If he does something, I’ll get on him. [We] just have a good relationship so it carries over to the field.”
The connection between Hill and Lee proved vital down the stretch, as they found themselves down early.
On their opening drive, Maine possessed the ball for 9:38 before ultimately stalling in the red zone, ending with 29-yard field goal from kicker Cody Williams.
After a pair of empty drives from the Rams and a punt from Maine, the Black Bears took the ball 91 yards and found the end zone on a 2-yard rush from running back Elijah Barnwell. With Rhode Island back in possession, Maine’s defense held strong, holding Hill to just four completions off of ten passing attempts before regaining possession via punt.
Staring at a 10-0 deficit with 2:36 to go in the half, the Rams woke up. Rhode Island kept Maine’s possession of the football short, forcing a three-and-out, highlighted by a third-down pass rush from redshirt sophomore linebacker Evan Stewart.
With under two minutes until halftime, Hill found Lee downfield for a 63-yard touchdown, putting the Rams within striking distance.
The cheers around Meade Stadium quickly died down, as Maine wide receiver Zavier Scott returned the kickoff 58 yards downfield and into Rhode Island territory with 1:06 remaining. Following a trio of plays, the Black Bears sent Williams back onto the field, putting them up 13-7 going into halftime.
Coming out of the break, Rhode Island found their footing on offense. Hill led the Rams on a 66-yard drive, capping it off with a 7-yard scramble into the end zone, giving the home team their first lead of the afternoon.
Following a pair of stagnant drives from both teams, Maine quarterback Joe Fagnano found freshman tight end Rohan Jones in the end zone for an 18-yard score. After a failed two-point conversion, the Black Bears regained their lead, going up 19-14 with 2:20 to go in the third.
On the subsequent drive, Hill and Lee connected for a 47-yard play to put the Rams in the red zone. A couple plays later and Rhode Island’s quarterback scrambled into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the game before falling short of the goal line on the ensuing two-point try.
With the fourth quarter underway and the Black Bears trailing 20-19, Fagnano and his running back tandem of Barnwell and Freddie Brock carried the load, driving Maine down the field before getting stopped just shy of the red zone. Following a field goal from Williams, his third on the day, the Black Bears regained the lead, going up 22-20 with 9:33 on the clock.
With time slowly winding down, the two teams continued to trade punches as the Rams took the field. Hill found Lee for a large 22-yard pickup to set the team up at midfield.
Running back Marques DeShields carried the load the rest of the drive, where he broke off chunk plays of 18 and 27 yards to ultimately set up his 1-yard score. With another failed two-point conversion, the Rams got back on top, leading 26-22 with 7:17 remaining in the game.
Looking to complete the comeback late in the fourth quarter, Rhode Island’s defense didn’t budge, forcing their third three-and-out of the afternoon.
With both the lead and possession of the ball, the Rams fed DeShields six times for 21 yards to burn the clock and seal their sixth win of the season.
“Proud of the way the guys hung in there. There was no flinch. There wasn’t any head-hanging,” coach Fleming said about the teams resilience, “We just won number six. We’re a winning football team.”
Next weekend the Maine Black Bears (2-7, 2-4 CAA) travel to the University of Albany (2-7, 1-5 CAA) to take on the Great Danes at 12 PM EST. Meanwhile the Rhode Island Rams (6-3, 4-2 CAA) look to keep their playoff hopes alive as they go up to the University of New Hampshire (6-3, 5-1 CAA) to take on the Wildcats at 1 PM EST.
*Photo Credit: Rachel Zingerman // gorhody.com