The University of Rhode Island football team got the bounce back it needed.
The Rams snapped a three-game losing streak, guaranteed a winning season and scored their first victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision foe since 2000 in a 35-22 triumph over Massachusetts on Saturday.
“It’s amazing,” said senior defensive end L.B. Mack III. “I knew it was possible because of the guys we have and our culture. But to be part of history and what we’re doing, I’m grateful.”
The Rams were in desperate need of a victory, having followed up a 5-0 start with three consecutive losses. A step out of Colonial Athletic Association play for a matchup with an FBS contender – even a struggling one like UMass – didn’t look like the best opportunity for a comeback, but the Rams made it so. It’s just the second all-time win for the program over an FBS team and the first since a win over Connecticut in 2000.
With two games remaining, the Rams can finish no worse than 6-5, a third winning season in four years. But they’re obviously aiming higher, with playoff hopes renewed at least a bit.
“It feels great to be in control of a game on the road, going against a quality opponent,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “It’s huge, particulary against an FBS team. It just shows what we’re capable of with our football team. It keeps us alive to be able to continue to grind for the playoffs.”
Mack had 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks on his way to CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors. That effort was part of a strong showing by the URI defense, which stopped 6 of 11 third-down tries and had nine tackles for loss.
“I really just fell back on my training,” Mack said. “Coach Cooper told me he was going to use me a lot, and they needed me to get home and make some plays.”
Former Shea High School standout Jaylen Smith broke out for 114 yards rushing on 16 carries, including a 72-yard score that proved to the back-breaker.
“That was huge,” Fleming said. “You think about this team, we’re beat up. Kevin Brown is out. Justice Antrum is out. People’s numbers get called and they have to step up.”
Two crucial CAA games remain in the regular season, beginning with Saturday’s home matchup against New Hampshire. The Rams close the season Nov. 20 at Elon.