The University of Rhode Island football team viewed Saturday’s game as a must-win and navigated a rough start and wild weather to get it. The Rams beat William & Mary 21-10 at rainy and windy Meade Stadium.
“We were both equal in the conference standings and we knew it was a must-win game for us,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “It was a complete team victory and I was really pleased with the way it all worked out.”
URI had lost two straight coming into the game, its early-season strides in danger of fading. Instead, the Rams improved to 3-2 in Colonial Athletic Association play and 5-3 overall. One more victory would secure the program’s first winning season since 2001. If the Rams could steal an extra win against top 10 teams Elon or James Madison the next two weeks, they could work themselves back into the FCS playoff conversation.
“To be in meaningful games in November is everything we’ve been playing for,” Fleming said. “The sixth win is critically important to our football program – there hasn’t been a winning season since 2001. We’re trying to get that corner turned and it’s going to be against really good CAA opponents as we go down the stretch here.”
A strange start put the Rams in an early hole Saturday. Branyan Javier-Castillo intercepted a pass for the Rams but was stripped of the ball during the return, and William & Mary brought it back for a touchdown. The Tribe returned the favor with a muffed punt that URI’s Momodou Mbye recovered for the game-tying score. URI then made it 14-7 on a Naim Jones touchdown and remained in front from there. Vito Priore’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Parker sealed the win.
“We were able to manage the game extremely well,” Fleming said. “We spent a lot of time on weather preparation and how we wanted to control the wind particularly. Two of the four quarters that were the wind quarters, we ground the ball out really well, and I thought we had the epitome of a mudder with Naim Jones.”
A junior-college transfer seeing his first extended action, Jones carried the ball 37 times for 132 yards. Just as crucial in the sloppy conditions, he did not fumble.
On the flip side, William & Mary lost six turnovers as the Rams recovered three fumbles and nabbed three interceptions. The Tribe was held to 101 yards of total offense.
With the win, URI has now reached three CAA victories for the first time since 2010. The five overall victories are also the most since 2010, when the Rams finished 5-6.
The next chance for another victory comes on the road Saturday against No. 8 Elon. The Phoenix is 5-2 this season and owns a win over league powerhouse James Madison. The Rams lost a one-point heartbreaker to Elon last year and won on their last trip there in 2016.
“We’ve got some confidence. We played a very close game with them last year. Last time we were down there, we had a good outing,” Fleming said. “It’s a tough out, no matter how you cut it. We’re going to have to play really well.”