The University of Rhode Island football team finally had a bad day.
That’s not easy to overcome in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Towson handed the 12th-ranked Rams their first loss of the season on Saturday, prevailing 28-7 on Saturday afternoon at rainy Johnny Unitas Stadium in Maryland. URI had come in with a 5-0 record, off to its best start since 2001.
“Credit to Towson. I thought they were a motivated group that was searching to get in the mix here and they certainly played a good, physical football game,” URI head coach Jim Fleming said. “Us on the other hand, we really played our worst football game.”
URI dropped back to No. 18 in the STATS Perform FCS Top 25 but remains firmly in the mix in the CAA, with a 3-1 league mark. Bouncing back will require meeting a significant challenge, with the Rams set to visit No. 5 Villanova on Saturday. The Wildcats have staked claim to top-dog status in the CAA with a 3-0 start to league play, which includes a marquee win over perennial CAA powerhouse James Madison.
“The locker room was matter of fact, that how what we had done on the field was not representative of how we had won in the previous games,” Fleming said. “But we’ve also been in very close games where we had the good fortune of making enough plays down the line to win. Our kids understand that, they got together and they got home. We’re about putting this one behind us and getting on to Villanova.”
The Rams rode in style down to Maryland, gifted an opportunity by the New England Patriots to travel on the franchise’s charter plane. Members of the team thought they were embarking on an eight-hour bus ride, but the buses pulled into T.F. Green Airport instead, a surprise awaiting on the tarmac.
At their destination, though, the good times came to an end for the Rams. Towson jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Justice Antrum got one score back with an 18-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, but it would be URI’s only tally of the day. Towson made it 21-7 late in the third quarter and 28-7 in the final three minutes of the fourth.
“As a coach, you try to figure out why and what happened,” Fleming said. “We came out and fumbled the first snap. I could go snap by snap. We played very poorly on the offensive side. I thought defensively, we battled but we couldn’t get off the field on third and fourth down, particularly in the second half. At the end of the day, it was a tribute to Towson. They took it to us and earned a good victory.”
Towson was 5-of-13 on third-down conversions and 3-of-3 on fourth-down plays as the Rams struggled to make key stops.
“They made the plays, kept the chains moving and eventually scored,” Fleming said.
The Rams finished with just 162 yards of offense, a season-low. Typically a model of efficiency, quarterback Kasim Hill completed seven of 26 passes for 90 yards and an interception. Antrum had 15 carries for 63 yards. Andre Blackett had a standout effort on defense with a game-high 17 tackles.
“If you get beat and you play well, you can take that. When you don’t play well, there’s a sour taste,” Fleming said. “We’ve got a very good opponent that we’ve got to prepare for this week. Full speed ahead is what we’re all about, turning the page and going forward. The big message is, ‘Don’t let last week’s bad performance beat you this week.’”
URI’s road trip to Villanova sets up a familiar situation. In the spring season, the Rams went on the road and upset the Wildcats when they were ranked sixth in the nation.
“They’re a talented group. No secret there,” Fleming said. “They’ve got a very good running back. The quarterback is dynamic and can hurt you both throwing and running. You’ve got an offensive line that’s well-coached and big and strong. They’ve got receivers out there who are a big threat. Defensively, they’re a nightmare. We didn’t get a chance to play against their middle backer last year, and he makes an impact. It’s going to be an extremely tough out. Just looking at their scores, they’ve been in some battles themselves. That’s what we hope we can do, is have another battle with them.”