Just what the 1-5 University of Maine football team needed to see Saturday, a Rhode Island squad that has: Won three straight games, including last week’s stunning 17-14 win at UMass, to improve to 3-2 overall (1-2 Yankee Conference). Gotten the services back of talented tailback John Newson, who missed URI’s last four games with a hernia. Found a talented replacement TB in freshman Dario Highsmith, who has rushed for 353 yards and 4 TDs on 66 carries, including 105 yards last week at UMass. Is playing inspired ball amid newspaper reports 16th-year head coach Bob Griffin is in danger of not having his contract renewed if the Rams don’t have a winning season.
“They’re a good, solid football team with momentum,” said Maine Coach Kirk Ferentz, whose team will be in Kingston, R.I., to take on the Rams at 1:30 in Meade Stadium.
Griffin doesn’t buy the notion momentum carries over from one Saturday to the next, but the veteran URI boss does believe his team’s confidence is growing in the wake of wins over UMass, Brown, and Towson State.
“There’s more confidence, more fun when you win,” said Griffin. “In terms of momentum, I don’t know. We’ve stressed you create momentum each Saturday.”
Griffin credits the resurgence of this year’s team after five losing seasons to a combination of talent and experience, coupled with desire.
“Against UMass, they shut us down for three quarters. We only had four first downs to that point. We got six (first downs) in the fourth quarter and came back to win. We became more determined. I think that was the big part of it. We had come together,” said Griffin.
The offense has come together behind a senior-dominated offensive line, the running of Highsmith, and the improved passing of junior quarterback Steve Holland. The Rams are averaging 357 yards and 23 points a game, fifth in the YC.
Holland has completed 55 percent of his throws for 832 yards and 4 TDs, with 7 INTs. His favorite target is tight end Darren Rizzi (23 catches, 356 yards), and 5-foot-5 split end Chris Pierce (9-208), who is also a dangerous kick returner.
Add to this group the potential return of Newson, a Dave Megett-type runner and receiver who gained 159 yards in the season opener at Richmond before aggravating the hernia, and Maine’s defense will have its hands full.
Defensively, Rhody has also improved, ranking fifth in the conference (350 ypg).
The leader of the unit is senior noseguard John Caruso, a 6-foot, 255-pounder who leads by example.
“He’s a rock. He plays every snap and practices every practice,” said Griffin. “He just keeps going, through injuries, things that would put other players on the shelf.”
Other defensive keys are inside linebackers Dave Slattery (51 tackles) and Marty Coyne (37 tackles), senior tackle John Klumbach (6-3, 247), and senior free safety Brian Thomas (6-1, 202).
Kicker Chris Cassara is 4-for-4 on field goals and is the No. 2 punter in the conference (40.2 yards per punt).