Head coach Jim Fleming’s only win over Brown came when his University of Rhode Island football team was in dire straits, mired in an 0-4 start in 2016 and desperately needing a victory.
A chance for win number two arrives Saturday in a very different situation.
The Rams carry a 3-1 record and a national ranking into the annual Governor’s Cup game, which is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. at Meade Stadium.
“Rivalry games are everything,” Fleming said. “They have in their possession something that we really want back - which is the Governor’s Cup. There’s a significant state pride component involved in this rivalry. There’s a bragging rights piece. And there’s an opportunity to keep us going with the forward momentum we’ve already achieved.”
URI hasn’t carried a winning record into the Brown game since 2005, when it was also 3-1. This season’s resurgence has included Colonial Athletic Association wins over Delaware and Albany, a narrow loss to Connecticut in a step up in weight class, and last week’s win over Harvard. The Rams built a lead on the Crimson and held on down the stretch for a 23-16 win in Cambridge.
“We’re sitting at 3-1, which is great, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Fleming said.
Brown carries a 1-2 record into Saturday’s game, having lost to Cal Poly and the same Harvard team URI just played before breaking into the win column last week against Georgetown. Against Harvard, Brown trailed 24-3 at halftime but rallied to within seven points before a late score by the Crimson put the game away.
“They’re a good, solid football team,” Fleming said of the Bears. “I really did earn a newer respect for the Ivy League the other night with the way Harvard played. And Brown played a tight game with those guys two weeks ago - a seven-point game late in the fourth quarter.”
URI was in danger of meeting the same fate against Harvard. They led 23-6 after a kickoff return touchdown by Ahmere Dorsey. But with quarterback JaJuan Lawson sidelined by a knee injury, the offense was quiet in the second half. Harvard took advantage, moving within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But the Rams’ defense - a unit that gave up 56 points to Connecticut in its most recent outing - rose to the occasion and stopped Harvard on its last five possessions, which included two interceptions.
“Our defense answered the challenge that they had coming off the UConn game,” Fleming said. “They really played lights out throughout the game - coming up with two picks late.”
The win was the second in as many meetings against Harvard for the Rams, who had previously lost a 51-21 laugher to the Crimson on their last trip to Cambridge in 2016.
“It’s a significant victory,” Fleming said. “When you start looking back and looking at where we came from, it was atrocious the last time we went up there. It’s very recognizable - we’ve got guys out there. The opposing coach was very complimentary of the talent level we’ve been able to build. And I think our kids play extremely hard.”
Momentum is tempered somewhat by the injury to Lawson. Fleming labeled him day-to-day and said he hopes the senior will return to practice late this week. In his absence against Harvard, sophomore Vito Priore completed four of nine passes for just 38 yards and threw an interception. Lawson had thrown for 153 yards with just four incompletions.
“It’s day to day right now. We had it evaluated on Saturday morning,” Fleming said. “He tweaked his knee. It’s a day-to-day decision and we’ll kind of roll with it. We’ll prepare Vito [Priore] and Tyler Harris. When we can get JaJuan rolling again - hopefully it’s some time this week - then we’ll figure it out. He’ll be out of practice [Tuesday], but we’re hoping to get him back for the tail end of the week.”
Saturday’s game will be the 102nd meeting between URI and Brown. The Bears have won six of the last seven.
For the Rams, a truly resurgent season might not be complete without turning that tide.
“A win over Brown would be huge,” Fleming said. “In and of itself, a win over Brown is something you try to do every year. And I know at Brown, they talk about beating Rhode Island every year. It’s a significant game and rivalry games are great for the overall sport of football. It’s a game that we want very badly. It’s going to take our best to get them.”