KINGSTON - Malik Gavek is not a name you’ll find circled on anyone’s scouting report. The redshirt sophomore walk-on entered URI’s game against Merrimack on Saturday with 16 tackles to his name this season. The Cranston East grad might have earned the attention of opposing offenses with his spectacular performance in a 42-14 Rhody win.
A week after making his first career interception against Elon, Gavek was everywhere in URI’s second win of the season. He forced a pair of fumbles within URI’s five-yard line, returned an interception for a touchdown and led the team with 14 total tackles.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him and how he represents our football program,” URI head coach Jim Fleming said. “He represents the hopes and dreams of a lot of people who want to play college football. He didn’t have the scholarship, he didn’t have the easy way coming in. Paid his own way, loved football, loved to play, loved to practice. Now he’s got his shot and he’s made the most of it.”
“It was great,” Gavek said of the dream day. “Just being out there, doing what I can for the team. Being in the right spots. Good preparation all week put me in the right spots. It’s my job to make the plays. I just got it done today.”
Gavek punched the ball out on two separate occasions within the red zone, preventing what looked like sure touchdowns for the visiting Warriors. He teamed up with another home-grown Rhode Island product on his pick-six.
Former Cumberland stand-out Andre Bibeault thwacked a Warrior pass out of the air, which then looped it’s way over to a surging Gavek. Gavek returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, the catalyst behind a 28-7 second half advantage.
“A long time coming,” Fleming said of the win. “Really happy for our guys. There was some ugly stuff out there that we’ll figure out. At the end of the day, we went out and performed. Ended up getting into a second half similar to what we’ve had in the past. We went out [after halftime] and did what we had to do.”
In the past this season, close games at halftime have consistently turned into losses for Fleming and his Rams. Leading on Saturday 14-7, the Rams finally found a way to close out a game. Vito Priore connected with Aaron Parker for a touchdown, while Justice Antrum and Naim Jones both had rushing scores in the final quarter.
Parker sat out the first quarter against new-to-FCS Merrimack. He continued his historic senior campaign by compiling eight catches for 126 yards in just three quarters of play. He now has 201 catches in his career and passed Brandon Johnson-Farrell for second all-time in program history on Saturday.
“The best part about this is being able to watch kids that are feeling a sense of pride, accomplishment,” Fleming said. “Aaron has done a lot over four years to really put himself as a name that will never be forgotten here at the University of Rhode Island.
“It’s certainly special. It’s very rewarding as a coach. We watch what these guys do and we take pleasure in their successes.”
“Finishing the season strong,” is my focus, Parker said. “What are we right now? 2-7? 5-7 would look a lot better than 2-7. Just pushing forward, keeping my head down. Staying focused. Let’s get some more wins.”
Parker would need to catch 83 more passes in the remaining three games to tie URI’s all-time pass-catcher, Brian Forster. Parker is also second to Forster in career receiving yards (3,252 to Forster’s 3,944).
The Rams featured two different quarterbacks for the first time this season. Freshman Darius Perrantes made his collegiate debut, splitting possessions with Priore for the first half. Perrantes’ didn’t put up eye-popping numbers on his three drives - 4-of-8 for 31 yards - but showed flashes of his explosive potential. The Rams failed to score with Perrantes under center, but Fleming says he’ll likely continue the time-share for the rest of the season.
“[URI offensive coordinator] Will [Fleming] came to me and there was staff consensus after last week’s game that it was time,” to give Perrantes a shot, Fleming said. “Four games left, you have a chance to see a bunch of kids that are younger, can still hold onto the redshirt. The plan was to alternate some series and then see how it unfolds. Vito ended up showing [the hot hand].
“I can see doing something very similar [moving forward]. I really liked what I saw [out of Perrantes]. That was an inch away from being a huge, monster [catch].”
Perrantes delivered a bomb deep in the first quarter to Isaiah Coulter, but the tight spiral was just out of reach and went down as an incompletion.
The win over the Warriors completes the Rams non-conference schedule for 2019. They will look to climb out of their winless hole in the CAA when they travel to take on William & Mary next weekend.
“We’re trying not to look back too much,” Fleming said. “At the same time, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to do this season. With the exception of the second half last week. Look at [the] Delaware and Stony Brook [games]. If we’re playing defense the way we are now, those are runaways.”