ALBANY, N.Y. — If Rhode Island was going to snap its 15-game losing streak Saturday night against Albany, the Rams were going to have to take some chances. Chances like the one coach Joe Trainer took in overtime.
With the Rams clinging to a six-point lead in the extra session following a Justin Semmes touchdown and a missed extra point, Albany faced a third-and-8 at the URI 23. Instead of sitting back and allowing Albany quarterback Will Flacchi to survey the field, the Rams blitzed their linebackers and whipped Doug Johnson.
If Flacchi read the blitz he likely would’ve thrown the game-winning touchdown pass, instead he was sacked by linebacker Dave Zocco. The final play proved to be anticlimactic as the Rams snapped their onerous losing streak with a 19-13 win over Albany in the Great Danes’ first Colonial Athletic Association game ever.
“We competed today, that’s what football is all about,” Johnson said after recording three tackles and an interception. “Going out there and winning an overtime game, what could be more exciting? That sack was huge. I know I was blitzing and I was blocked. Next thing you know our sideline is going crazy.”
“It was a gutty, gutty performance,” Trainer said after his team won its first road game since beating Towson 30-20 on Oct. 30, 2010. “We have good players that don’t complain; that don’t deviate. I’m so proud of them. There are so many naysayers and I couldn’t be happier for those kids to get this win.”
Rhode Island (1-2, 1-1 CAA) didn’t put up very pretty offensive numbers, but when the game entered overtime following a missed Dylan Smith field goal with 1:35 left in regulation, the Rams moved the ball efficiently.
Senior running back Justin Semmes, who carried the ball 19 times for 73 yards, had the big play of overtime when he earned a first down with a six-yard run. An Albany personal-foul penalty moved the ball to the 6 and two plays later Semmes plunged into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown.
“The offensive line really played tremendous this game,” Semmes said. “The holes were opening and the coaches just kept calling my number. Our offensive coordinator (Roy Istvan) is an offensive line coach, so he likes running the ball. We just kept pounding it and pounding it.”
Smith missed the extra point to put the Great Danes in position to win the game with a touchdown and an extra point, which was no guarantee with the way both kickers performed Saturday night.
Albany used the wildcat effectively for most of the second half and that strategy continued into overtime with Jake Meek (11 carries for 49 yards) rushing the ball to start the drive. After an Albany penalty and completed pass, Albany faced a third-and-8.
Trainer had a decision to make; he could either sit back and let Flacchi survey the field, which burnt URI a few times late in regulation, or he could attack.
“Sometimes you’re in rhythm with calls and in the last two third-down situations we showed blitz and dropped into two-deep coverage and rushing just four,” Trainer said. “They converted on both of them.”
The decision to attack proved to be a good one when Zocco earned URI’s third sack of the game. Flacchi’s fourth-down pass, his 36th of the evening, landed in the end zone and the Rams exploded off their bench like they’d won the conference title.
“I’ve been here four years now and we snapped a 15-game losing streak. It feels good,” said senior defensive lineman Josh Moody, who blocked two kicks. “At the end of the day it is just one win. We have to go out on Monday, get a good practice in and get ready for William & Mary.”
Albany (1-2, 0-1 CAA) will be kicking itself – literally – after losing the first game in the program’s beautiful, new $19-million facility, Bob Ford Field. The Great Danes turned the ball over three times, missed two field goals, muffed a punt deep in its own territory and had an extra point blocked.
The Great Danes, who won the Northeast Conference title last year, dominated the Rams on the ground (216-140) and overcame a 13-0 deficit midway through the third quarter to tie the game. Meek tied the contest with a 17-yard run at the end of the third quarter.
Yards and points were difficult to come by for Albany in the first half against a URI defense which has allowed just 10 points in the last two first halves. Flacchi completed just five passes for 29 yards in the first half and the Great Danes were 0-for-7 on third-down conversions.
“We really struggled to move the ball,” Albany coach Bob Ford said. “We were 5-for-15 throwing and we didn’t run the ball a hell of a lot better. We were shutout and now a days in college football it’s hard to shut anybody out.”
Rhode Island took its first lead of the season on a 45-yard field goal from Smith just 5:24 into the game. Smith bookended the quarter with a 36-yard field goal to finish off an eight-play, 54-yard drive.
The Rams scored their first touchdown in 111 minutes of football when quarterback Bobby Bentsen, who was 16-for-27 for 136 yards, scored a three-yard rushing touchdown. The drive went just 16 yards because of a muffed punt by Albany, which was recovered by reserve linebacker Clay Crume.
Albany running back Omar Osbourne cut the deficit to seven with a touchdown later in the quarter, but Tom O’Riordan missed the extra point. Meek followed with a touchdown at the end of the quarter and the Rams were thinking they were about to let their best chance to win a game in two seasons slip away – but it didn’t happen.
“You start to think about the self-fulfilling of prophecy like ‘Here we go again,’” Trainer said. “When’s the last time we led at the half? Probably Villanova. When’s the last time we didn’t trail the whole game? You don’t have to go way back. It’s nice to win. We’re seeing incremental growth.”