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Kasim Hill fights his way into the end zone

The any given day mantra continues to apply to CAA football this season, and the University of Rhode Island is thoroughly enjoying life on the right side of it.

After a string of close losses in 2019, the Rams have opened the 2020 spring season with two consecutive overtime wins over ranked teams, a swing of the pendulum that feels well earned. The latest win, a 17-10 triumph over No. 18 Albany on Saturday, put the Rams into the STATS FCS Top 25.

“It was a tremendous football game with two tough teams. That’s the way CAA football seems to be. Every week, whoever you’re playing has a chance to win. You respect your opponent and you manage it as best you can,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “We’ve been very fortunate to come out on the right end of things the last two football games.

“Really, we’re a couple of plays away from being 0-2, but we’ve been down that road, too. Last season, we had four or five football games that were lost in the last 50 seconds. For our team to get together and be resilient and come out on the right end is a tremendous tribute to the character of the football team.”

URI checks in at No. 18 in this week’s FCS poll, its first ranking since its breakout 2018 season. After the disappointments of 2019, the Rams believed they could be back in the mix this season and they’re making it happen.

“I really felt like we had something special brewing,” Fleming said. “We put a lot of time in in the fall, just getting to know each other. It was probably a blessing in disguise with the new schematic things we were doing on offense and defense, giving us a chance to learn. And we’ve got a very tough group – physically tough and mentally tough. They really enjoy playing, which has been the real benefit of 2021.”

After opening the season with a 40-37 victory over No. 6 Villanova, the Rams found themselves in more of a slugfest on the road at Albany. The Rams built a 10-7 lead at halftime then were held scoreless in the second half. Their defense came through, limiting the Great Danes to just a field goal. Coby Tippett’s late interception preserved the tie and sent the game to overtime. Rhode Island got the ball first in the extra session, and quarterback Kasim Hill took the first snap 25 yards for a touchdown that gave the Rams a 17-10 lead.

The defense followed with a tackle for loss, then limited Albany to a pair of short gains. On fourth down, Albany’s pass fell incomplete and the Rams celebrated another win.

“Offensively, we were a little disappointed in our performance,” Fleming said. “We made some stupid mistakes that really hurt us. But if you’re able to survive with two phases of the game – for us, it was defense and special teams – you give yourself a chance. Our punter did an outstanding job and we had some incredible stops down the stretch by our defense.”

Tippett was named CAA Defensive Player of the Week. The transfer from Towson had two interceptions and two tackles. Also earning CAA honors was punter Davey Schaum-Bartocci, who averaged 43.6 yards on nine punts, pinning Albany inside the 20-yard line four times.

Getting a nod in the rankings is a welcome feather in URI’s cap, but a quick glance at the rest of the Top 25 is a reminder of the challenges to come. The Rams are one of seven CAA teams in the poll, including No. 11 Delaware, who visits Kingston for URI’s home opener on Saturday.

“Very happy with where we’re at right now, but we’re not reading our press clippings,” Fleming said. “We know we have a lot of work to do.”

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