The University of Rhode Island football team made the most of a respite from the grind of Colonial Athletic Association play and beat Merrimack 42-14 on Saturday at Meade Stadium for its second victory of the season.
The win snapped a three-game skid as the Rams moved to 2-7 on the year. It was also their first win on their new home turf after three losses there.
“Long time coming,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “Really happy for our guys. Obviously, there was some ugly stuff out there that we’ll have to clean up, but at the end of the day, we went out there and performed and played. We ended up in a second half similar to what we’ve had in the past and did what we’re supposed to do to win the football game.”
The Rams took a 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass from Vito Priore to Isaiah Coulter. They made it 14-0 in the second quarter on a Priore pass to Ed Lee. After Merrimack worked back to 14-7 at halftime, the Rams surged. Malik Gavek returned an interception for a touchdown to start a parade of 28 consecutive points. Priore tossed another touchdown pass to Aaron Parker, and URI got rushing scores from Naim Jones and Justice Antrum.
Gavek was the day’s star. To go with his pick-six, the Cranston East graduate had 14 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
“It was great, just being out there and doing what I can for the team,” Gavek said. “Being in the right spots. Good preparation all week. They put me in the right spot to make plays and I went out and got it done today.”
Gavek was making just his second career start at safety. He began his career as a walk-on. Two days after the big performance, Gavek was named CAA Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
“He didn’t have the scholarship, he didn’t have the easy way,” Fleming said. “He paid his own way. Loved football, loved to practice. He got a shot and he’s made the most of it. He was able to earn a little [scholarship] assistance last spring. He’ll earn himself more. He just needed an opportunity. When he got his opportunity, he took it. It’s what we all talk about in the coach’s room – stay with it, be prepared. There’s no guarantee of reward, but if your opportunity comes, you’ll capitalize on it and never look back. I couldn’t be prouder of him and how he represents our football program.”
Parker hit two more milestones in a season full of them, becoming the first Ram since 1994 to hit the 1,000-yard mark in one season and becoming just the second player in program history to total 200 receptions.
“Aaron’s done a lot of stuff over four years to put himself as a name that will never be forgotten here at the University of Rhode Island,” Fleming said.
Priore completed 16 of 25 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. For the first time all year, he shared snaps with true freshman Darius Perrantes, who had been his top competition for the job in the preseason. NCAA rules allow Perrantes to play in four games while still maintaining a redshirt. He completed 4-of-8 passes for 31 yards.
URI gets back into CAA play with a pair of road trips, beginning with Saturday’s game at William & Mary. They’ll head to Maine the weekend after before closing the season against James Madison.
“We’ve got to press on as we get back into CAA play now,” Fleming said.