SOUTH KINGSTOWN - A.J. Bibeault saw an opening. L.B. Mack III saw nothing but daylight.
And together, two veterans who have been through lean times with the University of Rhode Island football team saw their program’s breakthrough reach a whole new level.
Bibeault blocked a punt and Mack returned it for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter as the Rams grabbed hold of a game that was in danger of slipping away. Jordan Jones intercepted a pass in the final seconds to lock up a 22-15 win for the Rams over No. 9 Delaware on Saturday at Meade Stadium.
The Rams are 5-0 for just the fourth time in program history and a perfect 3-0 in Colonial Athletic Association play.
“The game was a testament to what we stand for as a team,” Bibeault said. “Been here for a long time. Doing the little things right over six years - that’s what it gets you.”
Delaware’s last visit to Meade Stadium came in the abbreviated spring 2021 season and was the one that got away from the Rams. URI lost 35-21 in what wound up as its last game of the season due to COVID-19 issues. The Blue Hens proceeded to go 7-1 and make the FCS Playoff Semifinals. The success has continued in the fall, with Delaware off to a 3-1 start, its only loss coming to FBS Rutgers.
In winning the rematch, URI positioned itself atop the Colonial Athletic Association standings and secured a marquee win. While there’s a long way to go, the Rams have made an FCS playoff berth a real possibility.
“It means a lot - 3-0 in this conference is a tough task,” head coach Jim Fleming said. “You look at the national championships Delaware has, the investment in their program, the facilities. All the things that we’re striving to become right now is what Delaware has. We had an opportunity to go out and beat them.”
The Rams led most of the way on Saturday, pitching a shutout in the first half and taking a 12-0 lead into the break. Delaware came back with 15 consecutive points before URI tied it 15-15 on a field goal with 6:39 left.
The game was in the balance when two URI stalwarts teamed up to grab it. A key defensive stop put Delaware in fourth-and-five near midfield with just under four minutes left. Lined up in a punt-safe formation, with no plans to rush, Bibeault found himself with a gap and a head of steam.
“I just started running,” Bibeault said. “I kind of felt like the snap was slow. Just kind of put my body in there and I happened to be the guy with a hand in the way. Fortunate for that.”
Mack scooped up the loose ball at the 28-yard line and found himself with a clear runway. He raced all the way to the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
“We work that every day in practice,” Mack said. “Scoop and score. I’m trying to think if someone’s behind me. When I got to the end zone, I didn’t even know what I really did. Thank you to Bibeault, though. Without that effort, that doesn’t happen.”
C.J. Carrick’s extra point made it 22-15 with 3:46 left. Delaware had time to work with and drove into URI territory again, but the Ram defense finished off its strong effort with one more big play. Jones snagged his second interception of the day on a jump ball to the end zone with 23 seconds left.
“Coming off the sideline, coach was just talking about making a play for the team,” Jones said. “I guess I just wanted to make a play. I saw the ball and just wanted to go get it.”
Delaware was without starting quarterback Nolan Henderson due to injury, but the run game is often its breand and butter anyway. It certainly was in the spring meeting, where Dejoun Lee gashed the Rams for 221 yards. The Rams were better this time. Lee cleared the century mark at 115 yards but his longest run went for only 21 yards as URI avoided giving up big plays.
The first half was a master class in controlling a game. URI allowed 57 yards of offense, intercepted two passes, and stopped Delaware’s only promising drive short of the red zone, which led to a missed field goal.
On the other side, the URI offense was content to work methodically, further limiting Delaware’s opportunities. While the Rams didn’t take full advantage, forced to settle for two field goals, they found the end zone once with a 68-yard drive, capped by a Kasim Hill touchdown run. They finished the half with a seven-minute edge in time of possession and totaled 132 more yards of offense than the Blue Hens.
Delaware found its footing in the second half. After a defensive stop on URI’s first possession of the second half, the Blue Hens went 87 yards for their first points of the game. Zach Gwynn hit Thyrick Pitts from 42 yards out for a touchdown that made it 12-7. URI was in position for a response, but Carrick’s 33-yard field goal try late in the third quarter was blocked by Justis Henley. The Blue Hens scored again soon after, grabbing the lead on a touchdown run by Quincy Watson. He also ran in the two-point try to make it 15-12.
URI responded with a solid drive that stalled in the red zone. Carrick was good from 32 yards for the game-tying field goal. That set the stage for the defensive stop and the blocked punt.
“It’s very representative of this year,” Fleming said. “The bottom line is you go down, but you have confidence in your team. The performances they’ve had - they’re not going to fracture, they’re not going to freak out.”
Justice Antrum hit 100 yards rushing for the second straight game, playing the workhorse role in the grind-it-out approach. He carried 30 times for 124 yards.
Hill completed 13 of 22 passes for 155 yards. Caleb Warren hauled in four passes for 88 yards.