In a season marred by inconsistency in the most important facets of the game — quarterback play, pass protection and tackling — the Tribe’s special teams play has been relatively reliable.
That is, until Saturday, when two blocked punts and a muffed punt return derailed the College at Rhode Island as the Tribe fell to the Rams 24-21, extinguishing any lingering hopes of a 2011 playoff bid.
“You can’t expect to play good teams in this league, especially going on the road, and have two punts blocked and expect to win,” head coach Jimmye Laycock said.
Once again, senior running back Jonathan Grimes — for whom the remaining games on the Tribe’s schedule are a showcase for potential NFL suitors — led the way for the College’s offense, going over 100 yards rushing for the third consecutive game. Grimes carried 25 times, racking up a mammoth 208 yards on the ground and running for two touchdowns, bringing his season total to six on the ground and 10 overall.
But with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left in the game, a blocked punt off sophomore punter Drake Kuhn’s kick helped complete a late-game comeback for the Rams, as Rhode Island kicker Louis Feinstein hit the game-winning field goal from 27 yards out just over a minute later.
The Rams took the early lead, marching 69 yards on the game’s opening drive, ultimately finding the endzone on a 32-yard pass from quarterback Robert Bentsen to tight end Joe Migliarese to put Rhode Island up 7-0. The Tribe (4-5, 2-4 CAA) answered right back though, as Grimes struck for his first of two long touchdown rushes, taking the handoff on the College’s first play from scrimmage and scampering for a 60-yard touchdown run. But Kuhn’s ensuing extra point attempt was no good, leaving the Tribe trailing by one in the early going.
The score remained 7-6 until the third, when Grimes hit big again. After sophomore quarterback Brent Caprio — starting in place of classmate Mike Graham — took a sack on the College’s first possession of the half, Grimes broke off an 87-yard touchdown run to give the Tribe a 13-7 advantage.
The Rams closed the gap in the fourth, however, opening the quarter with the first blocked punt of the day, setting their offense up at the College’s 41. Rhode Island capitalized, taking nine plays to eventually punch it in from two yards out, putting the Rams back on top, 14-13.
But the lead would swing back to the College when Caprio hit junior tight end Nolan Kearney for a 5-yard touchdown pass, capping off a six-play, 64-yard drive. The College then went for the two-point conversion, and Caprio hit senior wideout D.J. Mangas, giving the Tribe a 21-14 lead with 7:45 left.
That would be the last of the College’s offense, though, and the Rams would surge past, tying the game with a 16-yard touchdown pass before the blocked punt and field goal provided the final score.
“They came after us and we didn’t do a good job blocking,” Laycock said of the poor protection on punts. “When you don’t block them, they got a chance.”
With less than a minute to go and the College needing a scoring drive to stave off defeat, Caprio’s pass to Mangas on 4th and 12 on the College’s 44 fell incomplete, and Rhode Island took a knee to secure the win.
Caprio finished the day at 15 of 26 for 143 yards, one touchdown and one interception while the College as an offense outgained the Rams 379 yards to 289.
“Everything considered, he did a good job,” Laycock said. “He was under a lot of pressure and it was hard to see some things.”
Junior linebackers Dante Cook and Jabrel Mines led the way for the College’s defense with 12 tackles each.