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Football team captures 2015 Governor’s Cup

In 100th meeting, Bruno’s potent offense lifts team over Ocean State rival in tight game

In the same breath, Head Coach Phil Estes P’18 called the football team’s 41-31 victory over Rhode Island an “ugly win” and the “most beautiful game I’ve ever seen.” Both statements were true of Saturday night’s contest under the lights at Brown Stadium.

When the back-and-forth game reached its climax with five minutes to play, the beauty was in Brown’s passing game. Quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15.5 lobbed a ball toward the back corner of the end zone, where wideout Alex Jette ’17 extended for an incredible go-ahead touchdown catch. The 20-yard completion put the Bears (1-2, 0-1 Ivy) in front, 34-31, and turned out to be the difference in Bruno’s fifth consecutive Governor’s Cup win.

Part of the “ugly” to which Estes alluded came just minutes before Jette’s heroic snag. Bruno had come from behind to take a 27-24 lead with 8:38 to play, but URI’s tremendous tailback Harold Cooper carved up the Bears’ special team with a 92-yard kick return for a touchdown to give the Rams the lead once again.

“What I loved best about this game was, after we scored the go-ahead touchdown and they answered back, we went right back out there and marched the field.” Estes said.

The offensive firepower displayed in two long fourth-quarter drives mirrored what Bruno had done in the first quarter. The Bears jumped to a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter with a formidable aerial attack. In a lightning-fast first drive, Fuller went 5-for-5 through the air for 53 yards and a touchdown strike to Troy Doles ’16.

After a second long drive yielded a missed chip-shot field goal, Fuller led the offense 67 yards, going 6-for-7 and capping it with an 11-yard touchdown to Jette. Tight end Oliver Bucka ’18 became Fuller’s third different touchdown target two possessions later with a 15-yard catch over the middle.

Fuller’s monster start — which amounted to a line of 19-for-23, 234 yards and three touchdowns in the first 20 minutes of play — came on the heels of a terrible start last week that forced him to come out of the game in the second quarter.

Last week “forced me to reevaluate who I was as a football player,” Fuller said. “We learned from it, had a great week of practice and then parlayed that into a fast start.”

But even within the fast start, the mistakes that plagued Bruno in its opening two losses — turnovers and poor special teams play — began to resurface. The Rams scored their first touchdown on a fumble by Fuller.

The special teams unit was in trouble long before Cooper’s fourth-quarter kick return. Kicker Grant Senne ’16 hooked an easy field goal and sliced his third extra point. Those four points were the difference in the game before the game-winning drive. A muffed snap on a punt led to a turnover on downs in the second quarter and URI’s second touchdown one play later. The opening kickoff of the second half was returned all the way to the Brown 30-yard-line, setting up a short field goal.

“There’s still a lot we have to fix,” Estes said.

Bruno’s ugly play through the middle of the contest allowed URI (0-5) to rattle off a 17-0 run and take the lead entering the final quarter. But Fuller said the offense’s fourth-quarter spurt was a forgone conclusion.

“Even in scoreless drives we had moved the ball, and so we were upbeat,” he said. In the second half, “I would look over at our sideline and see nothing but 100 percent confidence.”

Fuller’s final stat line was worthy of his team’s confidence. The senior signal caller completed 41 of 58 passes for 438 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

But the unsung heroes of the game were the members of a depleted but stout Bruno defense. Injuries cost the Bears defensive captain Zach Sparber ’15.5, 2014 second-leading tackler Michael Walsh ’16 and even key lineman Jake Walther ’16, who left mid-game. But the team rallied to play solid defense.

Most of URI’s scoring was no fault of the Bruno defense. The Rams posted a special teams touchdown, a defensive touchdown and scored twice with very short fields after a kick return and a turnover on downs. Bruno allowed only one scoring drive of over 30 yards.

All of the Rams’ success was rooted in their 5-foot, 7-inch running back and return man. Cooper’s devastating speed led to 109 yards rushing and a staggering 183 kick return yards.

Cooper knew exactly when he was going to break the go-ahead kick return for touchdown.

“I told my team before the play I was going to take it back to the crib,” Cooper said. “I had that mentality, and I did it.”

“The last thing I wanted to see was number two get the ball at the end,” Estes said of the speedy back. “He’s quite a player.”

But the Bears’ defense stepped up when it mattered most. The Rams had the ball and two timeouts at their own 28-yard-line, trailing by three with 2:13 to play. But Jordan Ferguson ’17 snuffed out the comeback attempt. The cornerback read a play to the flat, intercepted the pass and returned it 34 yards for a game-sealing touchdown.

Estes said the win is the first step in a two-week preparation for Ivy play. The Bears will continue that preparation with a contest Saturday at Holy Cross.


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