PROVIDENCE — After three weeks of heartbreak, the University of Rhode Island couldn’t avoid a little heartburn on Saturday but managed to escape the East Side with the Governor’s Cup trophy.
Vito Priore connected with Aaron Parker for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:43 left as the Rams held off upset-minded Brown 31-28 at Brown Stadium in the 104th meeting between the rivals.
The Bears had taken the lead three minutes prior, but the Rams this time made all the right moves down the stretch, staying away from their recent late-game struggles and fending off what would have been an 0-5 start to the season.
“Major, major credit to [coach James Perry] and the Brown Bears,” URI head coach Jim Fleming said. “I thought they played a tremendous game. He’s got a lot of guts in the way he approaches the game. The quarterback is a dynamite player. They made it very hard sledding for us. But the bottom line is we’ve been through our share of those games and came out on the other end. To see us be able to withstand the onslaught can’t be minimized. It’s a great W. The Governor’s Cup goes back to Rhode Island.”
It’s the second straight Governor’s Cup win for the Rams and their first in Providence since 2007. Last year’s 48-0 victory was the most lopsided win for URI in series history.
While the Bears and new coach James Perry fell to 1-2, they were happy to leave that defeat firmly in the past.
“What an incredible game,” Perry said. “I knew it was going to be such. Our guys have been practicing awesome and I think that really showed.”
Rhode Island took a 24-14 lead early in the second half but never put the Bears away.
Only an interception in the end zone by URI’s Rashod Dickerson kept Brown from an immediate answer. Soon, the Bears were marching to touchdowns on consecutive drives, with E.J. Perry’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Allen Smith on fourth down giving them the 28-24 lead.
While the URI defense was wobbling, the Rams’ offense remained confident, despite punts on its last two possessions.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Priore said. “The last three games, we were in similar situations where we had to go get points. We knew we could do it.”
Sure enough, the Rams steamrolled 63 yards for the go-ahead score. Priore hit Isaiah Coulter for 28 yards and converted a third-and-9 with a 12-yard pass to Ahmere Dorsey.
On first down at the 14-yard line, Priore took an end zone shot to the right and Parker rose above Joseph Shell for the touchdown.
“Just found some one-on-one room,” Parker said. “Me and Vito throw that pass all the time. He knows where to put it and I know where he’s going to put it. We’ve got that camaraderie with each other.”
Parker caught two touchdown passes, bringing the All-American’s career total to 26 and moving him to third place on the school’s all-time list. Coulter also caught a touchdown while serving as Priore’s favorite target, catching a career-high 12 passes for 171 yards.
“That’s as tough as it gets,” Perry said of covering the Rams’ duo. “I thought we did an excellent job in many ways. I said before the game I thought [Parker] was the best receiver in the country and I stand by that. We knew that it wasn’t just him. They have an excellent quarterback and Coulter played phenomenal. The stats are the stats. He was incredible. It is tough when literally the best receiver in the country is playing right next to him. Who do you cover?”
Brown still had life after the go-ahead score, taking over with 5:39 left and feeling good following two touchdown drives. Again, the Bears started moving, heading toward midfield on a 22-yard pass from Perry to Demitri Jackson.
The URI defense stiffened there, stopping Smith for no gain and forcing two straight incompletions. Brown had eschewed punts earlier in the game, converting five of six fourth downs, but with a fourth-and-10 and still holding all three of its timeouts, the Bears opted to punt.
It was a significant stop for URI, given the adventures of the last three weeks. Delaware beat URI in triple overtime, New Hampshire won on a last-second field goal and Stony Brook delivered the go-ahead score with 11 seconds left.
“I’m sitting there saying, ‘We can’t do this again,’” Fleming said. “We gave them the ball with enough time to go down and get a field goal, but we found a way to get a stop.”
URI took over with 4:20 left and never gave the ball back. Priore found Coulter to convert a third down and picked up another first down on a pass to Dorsey, which forced Brown to start using its timeouts. Parker then took a direct snap on third-and-4 with 1:15 left and ran right for a first down, clinching the win for the Rams.
“We were able to close out a game the way you want to,” Fleming said.
Priore completed 31-of-44 passes for 389 yards. Zoe Bryant led the URI rush game with 63 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. E.J. Perry had a tremendous day for Brown, racking up more than 500 total yards for the Bears, throwing for 420 and running for another 92.
“We won’t have to worry about E.J. Perry for another year,” Fleming said with a chuckle.
The win pulled URI even in the series since the advent of the Governor’s Cup, with the teams splitting 38 meetings. Brown leads the all-time series 73-29-2.