KINGSTON—Generally speaking, there’s never much to feel good about after suffering a 24-0 loss.
Good wasn’t the word University of Rhode Island football coach Joe Trainer used to describe how he felt after his Rams’ loss to Stony Brook Saturday by that score, but the fifth-year URI coach did seem optimistic after watching his team play.
“That was a difficult loss against a very good football team,” Trainer said. “They beat our champion last year pretty good, they kicked their butts in the first round of the playoffs [in] Villanova and we knew we were going to have our hands full.
“As disheartening as another loss is I would say this, I don’t know if I felt as positive at any point last year as I do right now.”
While the final score began to border on lopsided, for the better part of the afternoon the Rams were within striking distance of the Seawolves even after a very inauspicious beginning.
URI picked up a first down on the game’s opening possession but the drive stalled at the Rams’ 47 after quarterback Bob Bentsen was dropped for an eight-yard loss on 3rd-and-7, forcing a punt.
The Seawolves took over at their own 31 and on their very first play from scrimmage SBU quarterback Lyle Negron fooled the entire URI defense.
The Stony Brook quarterback faked a handoff, took off running and sauntered down the field 59 yards before Tim Wienclaw and Jamaal Bess combined to bring him down.
Just as it seemed another here-we-go-again moment was looming for the Rams the home team dug in its heels defensively, only giving up a field goal out of a 1st-and-10 situation at the URI 10-yard line.
Rhody’s stand set the trend for the rest of the afternoon, as URI’s defense kept the team in the game while the offense sputtered.
“We were in it until the end,” URI defensive end James Timmins said. “They opened it up late but it was 10-0 for a while there. If one play goes our way I think we’ve got a chance there.”
Rhode Island’s next two offensive possessions ended with a punt and a fumble but on their first possession early in the second quarter the Rams finally appeared to gain some momentum.
After a one-yard completion on first down Bentsen went deep to Andrew Matos for a 36-yard completion, but the play turned in an instant as Stony Brook’s Max Martinez ripped the ball away and Reuben Johnson pounced on the fumble for the turnover with 12:34 remaining until halftime.
The Seawolves would not squander the opportunity either, marching 61 yards on seven plays in four minutes to take a 10-0 lead on an eight-yard Marcus Coker rush.
The score remained as such at halftime but after forcing a Stony Brook punt on the opening possession of the third quarter, the Rams put together their best drive of the day.
Beginning at their own nine-yard line, the Rams picked up 14 yards on four straight rushes before Bentsen connected with Robbie Jackson for a 24-yard gain to give URI a first down at its own 45-yard line.
A false start backed the Rams up five yards but they quickly gained them back as Bentsen connected with Ross Kim for a 14-yard gain on the heels of a two-yard rush from Justin Semmes.
That is where the drive would stall though as Rhody gave the ball to running back Robbie Delgado four times in a row but the East Providence graduate only picked up eight yards to turn it over on downs to Stony Brook at its own 36-yard line.
Unfortunately for the Rams Saturday, each time they were on the verge of breaking through they fell just one play short.
“We’re in a up tempo offense, so you hope you’re gassing the defense faster than you’re getting gassed but I think we’re still not at a point where we’re operating when we’re winded and learning to play when we’re tired,” Trainer said.
“We try to practice that in the course of a practice and throughout the week but I think that’s the thing you’ve got to be able to maintain your focus on the eighth play of a drive, particularly in a game when you’re not getting a lot of big plays.”
Neither team put any points up in the third quarter but once again the Rams found themselves threatening at the beginning of the fourth with a 1st-and-10 at the Stony Brook 33 still only trailing 10-0.
Back-to-back four yard completions put URI inside the 30 but a two-yard loss by Jordan Sebastian backed the Rams up to 4th-and-four at the Stony Brook 27-yard line.
After getting stuffed on the run the last time on fourth down URI tried to pick it up through the air, but Bentsen’s short pass to Sebastian went for just two yards to once again turn it over on downs.
On the day Rhode Island had three drives end with fumbles and two more with failed fourth-down conversions.
“That front seven is as good as any we’ll see,” Trainer said. “Their ‘D’ line is very athletic and big, their second level defenders are just as athletic and big for their positions so I think if we don’t turn the ball over in those situations it’s a much different football game.
“They 339 yards, we had 291 so it wasn’t like anything was dialing up offensively today it was just a hard-fought contest.”
While the URI defense did its best to keep the Seawolves in check, the visiting squad ultimately put the game away in the fourth.
Following the failed fourth down conversion Stony Brook marched 75 yards on just seven plays to push it lead to 17-0 and – after another URI fumble – struck again on 30-yard pass from Negron to a wide-open Adrian Coxson in the end zone.
“Our defense forced some turnovers and we made some critical fourth down stops,” Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said, “and on offense we did what we had to do.”
Saturday’s loss was the 15th in a row for URI dating back to the 2011 season and if its winless streak is going to end any time soon it’s going to have to happen on the road.
“I’ve been as optimistic after back-to-back losses to start the season as I am to start this season,” Trainer said, “because we’re not that far away.”
The next two games will be on the road for the Rams as they will travel to take on Albany Saturday at 7 p.m. and William & Mary Saturday, Sept. 21 also at 7 p.m.
“I feel like it’s definitely progress on defense and offense even though we didn’t score,” Timmins said. “I know we’ll be ready for next week and we’re going to put it all together.”
If you looked closely at the Stony Brook sideline Saturday you would have found a Ram in Seawolves clothing.
After transferring from Hofstra University in 2009 Steve Probst quarterbacked the URI football team in 2010 and 2011.
In his two seasons at the helm for the Rams he threw for more the 2,700 yards and rushed for nearly 1,000 as the team had a combined 8-14 record.
Saturday Probst was back at Meade Stadium but instead of Keaney Blue he marched the sidelines in red and grey as an offensive assistant for the visiting Seawolves.
“It was good to see Steve,” Trainer said. “…I haven’t really had a chance to coach against a former player and he looks great.
“…He’s still got a ton of friends on the team, I mean Steve’s got one of those personalities where he’s like the pied piper. He’s going to transcend offense, defense, city, suburban and he’s going to coach guys and relate to all kids regardless of what side the ball they’re on. That’s one of the reasons why he’s going to be a great coach.”
According to Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore, Probst has fit in just fine with the Seawolves.
“He joined us last year and he’s done a great job,” Priore said. “He’s an awesome person and I’m really glad he’s gotten the chance to work for us.”
Priore must have been particularly pleased to have Probst around for the weeks leading up to the Seawolves’ season opener, after all, who better to have around than the guy who ran the opponents offense just a few years ago.
If Saturday’s game was any indication, Probst and his new team certainly had his old one’s number.
The phrases ‘standout offensive performance’ and ‘shutout’ don’t usually go together but it’s hard to ignore what freshman wide receiver Andrew Matos has done in his first two collegiate games.
“Sometimes you say the freshmen when they come early on the guys that play the earliest may not be the best players but…they’re the guys that the game isn’t overwhelmingly fast to them,” Trainer said. “Having said that he is one of the really good players and we knew he was going to be good but sometimes coming into camp you can’t gauge that.”
“…Andrew’s got great practice habits, which nowadays you don’t see a lot of high school kids have great practice habits because they’re not forced to work hard.
“ …He’s got a maturity and a moxy that you don’t see in lots of freshmen and I think that’s only going to get better.”
Last week against Fordham the Ansonia, Conn. native hauled in four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Saturday Matos did have the unfortunate fumble on what could have been a big play for the Rams, but the freshman still led the team with 68 yards on four receptions.
“I feel good with my play,” Matos said. “I feel alright and I’m ready for the next game.
“…During training camp the speed of the game was a lot faster, I had trouble catching the ball and seeing the ball but eventually two weeks into it I got it.”
Obviously there’s a long way to go for the first-year player but if the early indications mean anything Matos could be in store for a very good four years in Kingston.
ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT
At halftime of Saturday’s game the University of Rhode Island women’s rowing team was honored after the team captured its second consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship last spring.
A number of local athletes including Jess Bergen (Chariho High School), Lily Herberger (East Greenwich/La Salle Academy), Noelle Messner (South Kingstown High School), Mary Toth (Chariho) and Lotte Sherman (Chariho) competed for the Rams last season.
ODDS AND ENDS
After throwing for 224 yards Saturday Bob Bentsen became the 10th URI quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 career yards with 3,070 total…The Rams running attack took a big step back against Stony Brook. After picking up 277 yards on the ground in week one against Fordham URI had just 67 Saturday, led by Bentsen with 34 yards rushing…Next week when the Rams travel to the University of Albany they will be a part of the first game ever at Bob Ford Stadium, the Great Danes’ recently completed new stadium…The Sept. 21 meeting with William & Mary will be the first time the Rams have faced the Tribe since beating them 24-21 on Nov. 5, 2011, which coincidentally is also the last time URI recorded a victory.