Coach Fleming And Rams Captain Sebastian Delasoudas Find Inspiration In Villanova Upset

Sebastian Delasoudas
Latrell Stearns (20) and Sebastian Delasoudas (64) – Photo Courtesy URI Athletics

In his role as captain, Sebastian Delasoudas felt comfortable in saying a few words during halftime of last Saturday’s season-opener for the URI football team.

Setting the stage, two quarters were in the books with the visiting Rams leading sixth-ranked Villanova, 21-14.

“We were up by a touchdown and I told the guys that in an hour or so, we’re going to be the happiest people on Earth. Just stick to it,” said Delasoudas, a redshirt junior and member of the Rams’ offensive line.

When the final gun sounded, URI celebrated a 40-37 overtime victory that was cause for celebration on several fronts.

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“It was an incredible football game and one where we were incredibly fortunate to have won,” said head coach Jim Fleming.

The biggest win in Fleming’s seven seasons at the helm forced school officials to double check the pigskin archives. You have to go back to Nov. 6, 2010 to find the last time the Rams knocked off an opponent that ranked that high in the national polls. If you appreciate coincidences, the 17-14 victory from 11 years ago also came at the expense of Villanova; a team with the No. 3 ranking next to its name.

 

 

To be sure, there are a lot of areas to shore up and address, as is customary after a season opener. In a sport that preaches tunnel vision and turning the page to next week’s opponent as soon as the game is over, it has to be easier to move forward when one-sixth of the schedule is in the books and you’re still unbeaten.

As Fleming noted, “1-0 feels good. It’s a lot better than 0-1.”

Building momentum right out of the chute was just what the doctor ordered for a program that lived through far too many close calls during the 2019 season – the Rams dropped five games by eight or fewer points – and needed to adjust after the pandemic forced the postponement of the traditional fall season.

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“All the tough times we went through over the last year … the culture is changing,” said Delasoudas. “We’ve been working for almost two years, but the grind throughout quarantine has been unreal. Everybody was going through a lot. Kids had soul searching to do. It got tough mentally.

“To get a win like that, it was really good as far as team morale,” he added.

URI @ Villanova Final Score – Photo Courtesy URI Athletics

It was a win that also revealed a tremendous amount about the poise and character of the group. The Rams were forced to don their rally caps after Villanova dominated the third quarter and opened up a 10-point lead (34-24) with 11:50 remaining.

Delasoudas reminded his teammates to keep fighting.

“Don’t let up,” he said. “Keep going. The outcome is going to be what we want.”

Fittingly, it was a play on the ground that helped make it a happy bus ride home from Philadelphia. After holding Villanova to a field goal on the first possession of the overtime period, Rhode Island needed three plays on offense before finding the end zone. Quarterback Kasim Hill covered the remaining two yards with his feet on a day when the Rams averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

“Nobody let up. Nobody was selfish. We just kept attacking. That’s what I was really proud about,” said Delasoudas.

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In non-COVID times, opening the season with a high-profile victory is cause for celebration. In order to ensure the season presses forward, the Rams made a point to exercise sound judgement.

“We knew we wouldn’t celebrate collectively, but we’ve got to protect the privilege and do the right thing,” said Delasoudas. “Everyone was banged up, but I’d rather be banged up with a win.”

 

 

The trick will be to follow up an impressive win with another one when URI once again hits the road. For the second straight Saturday, the Rams will be guests in someone else’s house with fellow CAA rival Albany playing the host role.

“I was pleased to see the kids come away with a tough win,” said Fleming. “Not getting that one in the pocket would have created a different environment.”

“It was a great feeling, but it’s a feeling we should feel every week,” said Delasoudas. “I told the guys that we want this to be an every-week-thing for us.”