KINGSTON — The University of Rhode Island football team has produced bigger victories over ranked opponents during the Joe Trainer era, but there’s little doubt Saturday’s 12-10 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Richmond was the Rams most emotional win in the last five seasons.
With his five senior captains sitting in a make-shift media room in the bowels of the Ryan Center, Trainer entered and delivered an impassioned soliloquy highlighting his players’ commitment to playing team football after back-to-back blowout losses to Brown and New Hampshire.
“This is the best group of leaders I’ve ever had,” Trainer said putting his arm around senior offensive lineman Andrew Belizaire. “People have no idea how hard it is when you have 90 players with individual agendas and not having immediate gratification because that’s the world we live in.
“… To do what these guys did, I’ve never been prouder of a group of seniors than I am right here. They’re not only talented, to have the fortitude to keep this ship right and beat a good football team that lost to NC State by a field goal. I’ve never been more proud.”
Rhode Island (3-5, 2-2 CAA) certainly put Trainer through a range of emotions late in the fourth quarter. URI took the lead on Dylan Smith’s school record-tying fourth field goal of the contest. URI stopped Richmond on the next drive and the Rams appeared to be on their way to a win when they moved the ball to the Richmond 17 with three minutes left.
And then quarterback Bob Bentsen, who had a 39-yard run on the previous drive to setup the field goal, threw an interception to Richmond’s Wayne Pettus, who returned the ball to the URI 47.
“As a team we have each other’s backs,” URI defensive end James Timmons said. “We thought we were going to go out there and win it no matter what. We got together as a group and said one more stop wins the game.”
Richmond (2-5, 0-3 CAA) quarterback Michael Strauss connected with Stephen Barnette for nine yards on fourth down to put the Spiders at the URI 33-yard line. On the next play Strauss found Rashad Ponder in front of the URI bench, but after gaining 13 yards Ponder fumbled the ball thanks to a strip by reserve defensive back Rodney Chance. Fellow Ram Andre Scott made the game-winning recovery.
“It looked like Dre took it out of the kid’s hands,’ Trainer said. “Rodney did an unbelievable job of stripping it and the guy who caught it ended up jumping on it and Dre kind of got on it. This was a heavyweight fight.”
“A win like this definitely speaks volumes,” Belizaire said. ‘…The defense always has our backs. A win like this speaks volumes. We wouldn’t have done something like this last year. We faced adversity.”
The biggest reason Rhode Island entered Saturday’s contest riding a two-game losing streak was the defense struggled to stop the run against the Bears and Wildcats, while the offense couldn’t put up nearly enough points.
URI’s defense, which has been fantastic in nearly every first half this season, held the Spiders to just 83 yards on 30 rushing attempts. And when the Spiders faced a third-down situation the Rams only allowed them to convert first downs twice in 15 attempts. The Spiders were 0-for-6 in the second half.
On the flip side, URI managed to cobble up enough offense to win the game even though starting running back Justin Semmes is out for the year and third-down back Jordan Sebastian was unavailable to play because of a broken foot.
Rhode Island took the lead in the first quarter on a Smith 24-yard field goal, before the Spiders scored the only touchdown of the game, a 25-yard touchdown pass on a throwback screen from Strauss to Jacobi Green.
The Rams went into halftime down by one after Smith set a new career high with a 47-yard field goal. Smith’s four field goals in the game tied him for the most in school history along with Chris Casarra, who kicked four field goals against Northeastern on Nov. 11, 1988.
“He was awesome,” Trainer said of Smith. “Like all those guys they’re flaky as hell. You don’t really treat them as a regular player. He’s had a great year, but I was happy for him. (Punter Anthony) DiPaula was huge, too.”
The Rams took the lead on Smith’s 23-yard field goal with 9:31 left in the third quarter and Bentsen, who struggled throwing the ball with three interceptions, setup the game-winning score with longest run of the afternoon.
Facing a second-and-1 at his own 44, Bentsen faked a handoff and rumbled 39 yards down the left sideline. The drive stall at the Richmond 17, but Smith connected on his fourth field goal of the game.
‘We run it. It’s not something new,” Bentsen said. “It can be a lot of plays off that jet sweep. It can be a pass, it can be a give to the receiver. AK (Andrew Kestenbaum) was pulling on the play and he made a great block and I just cut back off of that.”
Rhode Island will look to win its second straight game Saturday at home against Delaware. The Rams haven’t won two straight games since beating Towson and Villanova in consecutive weeks late in the 2010 season.
“We’ve been through everything possible at this school,” Bentsen said. “(Trainer’s) stuck with us and we’ve stuck with him. It feels great to get a win for him, too. It’s great for the program.”