Although Rhody football lost their playoff chances with losses to James Madison and Elon University, they still had something to play for in their final game on Saturday against New Hampshire.
For the first time in 17 years, the Rams had the chance to finish a season with a winning record. And although it was close, they did just that.
With a game-sealing interception by defensive captain DJ Stewart and a 95-yard kick-return touchdown by Ahmere Dorsey, Rhode Island was able to pull away 24-21 on their senior day the Rams finish with a record of 6-5 on the year.
The win, and more importantly the season, marked a significant step in Jim Fleming’s journey as the head coach at the University of Rhode Island. In 2017, Fleming had a career high in wins with the program, finishing 3-8. He doubled the win total this season, and looks to do much more in the future with the program.
“Obviously this victory is significant in terms of achieving a winning status,” Fleming said after the game. “This group came into a program five years ago that was under extreme scrutiny as to whether or not football was important enough to keep at the University of Rhode Island.”
With the little success the program has had over past decade, there were rumors around URI of possibly cutting the football program, and moving Club Hockey to a Division 1 Sport.
“These guys proved it- damn right it is,” Fleming said of the importance of the football program. “We have achieved a winning season with very little, and the significance of laying that foundation and going forward from there is phenomenal. We will always indebted to that group that just played today.”
The season wasn’t a typical one. After starting off hot, with an upset victory on the road against a nationally ranked Delaware team and then blowing out Auburn at home to follow up, the Rams were rolling. They then traveled to UConn for a buy game against the FBS opponent, and put up over 500 yards and 49 points in 56-49 loss in the final seconds. The following game, they lost star QB Jajuan Lawson to a knee injury at Harvard.
Although they were victorious in the Harvard game and against Brown University the following week, the offense wasn’t the same without Lawson. They lost two straight to Maine and Stony Brook, Maine being via a last-second field goal in a game that the offense was stagnant all second half. Rhody only put up 14 points on two rushing touchdowns at Stony Brook the following week.
Lawson returned to action after a win over William and Mary and suited up on the road at Elon, where the Rams lost 24-21 after a failed onside kick late in the fourth. They lost the following week at James Madison, and Lawson finally returned home for senior day against New Hampshire this weekend.
“I had a roller coaster,” Lawson said. “That’s been the season for this team in general. At the end of the day, you play to win the game. You can’t be mad, or anything- we had the first winning season since ‘01. You just- you can’t be here when the team pushes forward next year.”
For next season, URI returns Quarterback Vito Priore, who filled in for Lawson this season. He was responsible for a 48-0 win over Brown and a 21-10 victory over William & Mary. Alongside him will be both of this season’s running backs, Naim Jones and Zoe Bryant, as well as star wide receivers Aaron Parker and Isaiah Coulter. Parker was awarded first team All-CAA this season, and Lawson received All-Conference recognition as well.
Ahmere Dorsey returns after becoming the first player in Rhode Island history to have over 1000 special teams yards in a single season. His 95-yard return touchdown sealed that for him, as he finished with 1185 yards and two touchdowns from kickoffs and punts this season.
Lawson, after being one of the most successful quarterbacks in URI history, will no longer be eligible for the Rams. He was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January of 2019, and will be one of the biggest graduating players from this season.
Leaving alongside him is Marven Beavuais, a wideout from Cranston East. With his size, Beavuais was a threat every play this year, and averaged over 10 yards per catch with seven touchdowns this season. Brandon Ginetti, an All-CAA defensive lineman in 2017, also played in his last year of eligibility.
Despite the losses, Fleming and the Rams have a lot to look forward to in 2019. With a winning season under their belts, they’ll likely have more backing from the University and a better culture around the program, for starters. They return several key pieces, and have a quarterback with decent experience under his belt at the helm. The 2018 season will serve as a benchmark for future success, rather than an output of a team with one year of great talent.
“Our whole program is built to become a champion,” Fleming said. “We fought through a very long season with a lot of adversity at times and we were able to hold it together best we could. I think that these guys will push three more feet in everything they do in their lives and be extremely successful, quality people, good husbands, good fathers, good employees, great humans.”
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