Rhode Island’s defensive and special teams units set the tone as the Rams closed out the regular season with a 35-21 win over the UAlbany Great Danes Saturday afternoon at Meade Stadium.
UAlbany struck first when Jackson Parker broke out for a 66-yard touchdown on the second play of the game, helping the Great Danes (3-8, 2-6 CAA Football) to an early 7-0 lead early on.
A couple drives later, the Rams (7-4, 5-3 CAA Football) defense retaliated. With UAlbany stuck deep in its own territory, Antonio Carter II stripped sacked quarterback Reese Poffenbarger in the end zone and linebacker Evan Stewart recover the ball for a touchdown.
The next possession for the Rams was a three-play, 60-yard drive highlighted by a 44-yard rush by Marques DeShields. One play after DeShields’ run, Kasim Hill would find wide receiver Kahtero Summers in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown, giving Rhode Island a 14-7 lead.
Near the end of the first half, the Rhode Island special teams unit made the biggest play of the day. Defensive lineman Westley Neal, Jr. blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt. Safety ONeil “Buzz” Robinson recovered the ball at the 4-yard line and returned the ball for a 96-yard touchdown. The huge play on special teams would send the Rams into the locker room with a 21-7 lead at the half.
Coming out of the half, the Great Danes responded, cutting the deficit with a touchdown from Kavon Chambers, making it a one-score game midway through the third quarter.
But Rhode Island’s special teams unit came up big again. Linebacker A.J. Pena pushed his man back on a punt attempt, focing the ball to be kicked into the helmet of a UAlbany player for a punt block. The play set the Rams up in the red zone, and two plays later Hill connected with receiver Darius Savedge on a 7-yard touchdown pass. The third quarter was capped off by an interception by defensive back Jordan Jones, preventing the Great Danes from getting into the red zone and giving the Rams the ball heading into the fourth quarter.
However, the Great Danes would not go down without a fight. A receiving touchdown by Ian Renninger from Poffenbarger again made it a one-score game at 28-21. Rhode Island put the game away with a quick four-play, 65-yard drive, resulting in a touchdown from Marques DeShields. The touchdown was set up by none other than DeShields himself, on a 61-yard run just two plays prior.
Inside the Box Score
Running back Marques DeShields rushed for 204 yards, the first Ram to top 200 in a game since Lyle McCombs against Stony Brook in 2014.
DeShields also scored his 12th rushing touchdown of the season, tying the program record set by Duke Abbruzzi in 1954.
It was the seventh 100-yard game this season for DeShilds.
URI held UAlbany to 108 rushing yards.
Quarterback Kasim Hill passed for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The senior closed out the regular season with 2,592 yards passing and 26 total touchdowns (19 passing, 7 rushing).
Wide receiver Kahtero Summers led all receivers, catching five passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Wide receiver Darius Savedge added a receiving touchdown, along with three catches for 15 yards.
On defense, linebacker Evan Stewart was everywhere, finishing with six total tackles, along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Senior linebacker Jake Fire led all defenders with nine total tackles in the victory.
Linebacker Jarrett Martin added seven total tackles and added two pass breakups and one sack.
Defensive lineman Westley Neal, Jr. totaled five tackles, three of which were solo tackles.
Defensive back Oneil “Buzz” Robinson contributed six tackles. He also had a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry, to go with his big touchdown return.
Defensive back Antonio Carter II had four tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two pass breakups.
Defensive back Jordan Jones recorded an interception along with one tackle and two pass break ups.
Linebackers Malachi Burby and A.J. Pena, and defensive lineman Matt Thomas each recorded a sack in the win.
The anchor bearer for URI was wide receiver Ed Lee, and the game captain was linebacker Jake Fire.
Rhode Island will learn its postseason fate Sunday. The FCS selection show will air at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.