The Rams went to Harvard and left 3-1, matching Jim Fleming’s career high for wins in a season with the program. Despite losing quarterback JuJuan Lawson late in the second quarter, the Rams were able to hold on 23-16 with Vito Priore at the helm.
The game started in Rhode Island’s favor, and thanks to a special teams touchdown and two late interceptions from the defense, Rhody was able to defeat Harvard for the second year in a row, and for the first time in Cambridge.
“We found a different way to win the football game,” Fleming said. “Defense and special teams stepped up in big time ways. Our offensive problems and struggles at times was a result of Harvard’s defense.”
The Rams took the opening kickoff to Harvard’s 46-yard line, however punting on their first possession. They forced a three-and-out defensively, and then Harvard fumbled the punt out of the back of their endzone, giving Rhody an early 2-0 lead.
After the Crimson kicked a field goal, Rhode Island scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 16-3 lead before the half. For the first, Lawson connected with his fullback Joey Kenny for 37 yards and a touchdown to take a 9-3 lead. Nearing the end of the half, Lawson broke contain and rushed nine yards for the score.
Taking a hit to the right leg on the play, Lawson limped to the sideline after the score and eventually made his way to the locker room. For the second half, he came out in sweatpants rather than football pants- a sign that he would be out for the game.
Head Coach Jim Fleming seemed optimistic in the postgame presser, saying they would assess the situation the next day, and that they hope to have him back for Brown.
“The medical people are on top of it,” Fleming said. “He wasn’t feeling stable enough. We anticipate JuJuan to be better very soon, if not this week.”
Taking his place was Redshirt Sophomore Vito Priore, who completed four of his nine attempts for 38 yards. The Rams scored once in the second half on a 97-yard kick return from Ahmere Dorsey. He had a total of 232 return yards on the day, and was responsible for seven of the nine points that special teams put on the board.
Two years ago, when Fleming and the Rams came to Harvard, they were brutally defeated 51-21. The Crimson were 14 for 20 with third down conversions that night, and the defense really had no answer.
“Two years ago we came up here, and it was a tough day,” Fleming said. “I think it’s a good testimony to the development of our football program to be able to win today.”
This weekend, Harvard converted on only two third downs. Three times the Crimson offense marched into the redzone, and all three times they settled for a field goal. L.B Mack III had 11 tackles, three for a loss and two sacks- his second multi-sack game this season.
The defense was especially good compared to their performance at UConn, where they allowed 56 points and 573 total offensive yards, 265 of them on the ground. At Harvard, they allowed 285 yards and only 101 rushing yards. The last two games from Rhode Island were offensive explosions, whereas this win came from the hands of the defense.
“Last week our offense held their own for us,” Captain D.J Stewart said after the game. “This week, we held our own for them.”
Late in the game, Harvard had multiple chances to drive the football down the field and score. The Rams offense wasn’t moving the ball well and punted on several possessions in a row. Both D.J Stewart and Justin Hogan were able to come up with interceptions with time running out in the fourth quarter to seal the deal and end the Crimson attack.
“We tell each other to push three more feet for a reason,” Mack said. “That three more feet comes for situations like the times we just played in. We want to be on the field so we can make plays, and do what we do.”
With or without Lawson, Rhode Island hosts Brown next Saturday for the Governor’s Cup. Last year, they traveled to Providence and lost, 24-21, however they have the advantage over the Bears this season. After Brown, Maine comes to Kingston for the Homecoming Weekend game, and that’s also a winnable game for Rhode Island.
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