SOUTH KINGSTOWN - The lights gleamed on the new turf. An overflow crowd filled the stands. A thrilling game unfolded.
One thing was missing.
Under the lights at Meade Stadium on Saturday night, the University of Rhode Island football team lost 44-36 to Delaware in triple overtime. After Delaware had rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit, URI forced overtime with 19 seconds left but the Blue Hens prevailed in the third extra session, spoiling the historic night in Kingston.
The stage represented the crowning moment on the $4 million renovation of URI’s home field. The Rams delivered their own upgrade with last year’s winning season - the first in 17 years - and those around the program touted the growing excitement. It was readily apparent in jam-packed stands and even on the sidewalk outside the fence beyond the north end zone, where more fans found a view.
“To be honest, it was amazing,” senior and Shea High product Momodou Mbye said. “Can’t hope for anything else. We got out there and the whole stands was full. It was definitely nice seeing it, just turning around and seeing the crowd a couple of times. It’s just like - we came a long way.”
The 8,511 on hand witnessed a wild finish. The teams traded touchdowns in the first two overtime periods, matching each other point for point. In the third overtime, Delaware scored on a short touchdown pass from Pat Kehoe to Will Knight. The overtime format requires teams to go for two-point conversions beginning in the third overtime, and Delaware made its try for the 44-36 lead.
URI moved inside the 5-yard line on its chance to answer but a fourth-down pass was intercepted, sealing the win for Delaware.
The Rams had been in prime position in the second overtime. Brandon Ginnetti sacked Kehoe on third down, but instead of forcing the Blue Hens into fourth-and-long, the play was wiped out by a defensive holding flag in the secondary.
URI head coach Jim Fleming was not pleased with the call.
“In my opinion, the flag came out late, and it’s just disappointing to me that a game that’s been going back and forth gets down to that kind of situation,” Fleming said. “If in fact it shows on tape and that’s what it is and they can justify, then so be it. I’m not sitting there trying to make a big argument with officiation or anything like it. I am saying there are 11 people playing on both sides of the ball and plenty of opportunities for both teams to win the game. Not saying it’s all about that, but the involvement at that point in time was obviously hurtful to the University of Rhode Island, hurtful to my guys and I’m not happy about it.”
Long before overtime, there was a promising start for the home team. URI intercepted three passes, didn’t allow a point in the first half and jumped to a 13-0 lead. The Rams felt it could have been bigger - two trips to the red zone ended with field goals - but still felt good.
The trouble started when URI marched deep into Delaware territory again on its first drive of the second half but missed a field goal. Delaware turned a blown coverage into a 66-yard touchdown, then scored again quickly after a URI punt, taking a 14-13 lead on a touchdown pass by Pat Kehoe to Bryce De Maille.
Rhode Island regained the lead on a touchdown pass from Vito Priore to Aaron Parker, but missed a two-point conversion attempt that would have bumped the lead to seven. Delaware went 68 yards to regain the lead, eating up a lot of clock before Kehoe’s touchdown pass to Owen Tyler.
With just 1:14 to work with, the Rams were undettered.
“Never flinch,” Parker said.
Parker turned short reception into a 36-yard gain. After an 11-yard completion to Ahmere Dorsey, the Rams were stopped but were in field goal range, and Carrick drilled a 44-yarder to tie it.
In the overtime periods, URI scored on a pass from Priore to Zoe Bryant and a jet sweep dump-off to Dorsey.
The Rams finished with gaudy offensive numbers. Priore became the first Ram to throw for 400 yards since 2009, finishing 30-of-48 for 430 yards and three touchdown. Parker looked the part of preseason All-American, catching 12 passes for 227 yards and a score.
“He’s the best wide receiver in the CAA and it’s not that close,” Priore said.
URI falls to 0-2 and 0-1 in Colonial Athletic Association play. Fleming fully expects a strong bounce back when the Rams return to action at New Hampshire in two weeks.
“These guys are champs,” Fleming said. “If you want to look at it from a calmer perspective, they were 21 in the nation. Time will tell how that plays out, but certainly, you’re looking at comparable teams. There were two very good football teams out on the field and we were one of them.”