Last season, the Stony Brook football team was up early against Colonial Athletic Association rival New Hampshire, but let their lead slip away. This time around, in front of 7,072 raucous fans at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on Saturday night, the Seawolves beat their highest-ranked opponent ever, stepping on the gas to pull away from the No.13-ranked and defending conference champion Wildcats, who they had never beaten before, 31-6.
“Real proud of the program. Kids have worked hard,” head coach Chuck Priore said. “The biggest thing that I saw in yesterday’s practice was that they expected to win.”
New Hampshire had only gained 20 yards through the first 25:27 of the game. But, in just over four minutes, the Wildcats turned their fortunes around.
Third string junior quarterback Adam Riese led the Wildcats and marched 80 yards down the field in 13 plays, ending the momentum-shifting drive with a fade to the right corner of the endzone. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Rory Donovan found the football for a touchdown, cutting the Seawolves’ lead to 10-6.
Members of the Wildcats coaching staff rushed from their coaches box up above the crowd to get to the locker room for halftime, but the action was far from over.
“I think the crucial thing is, and you know some teams have it is, the team came to the bench and didn’t care,” Priore said about the team’s reaction when the Wildcats pulled within four. “I think that’s a credit to the boys and the leadership of our seniors and we played the next series.“
Stony Brook spent much of its offseason focusing on closing games and not letting opponents hang around. New Hampshire could have done just that with their drive at the end of the first half, but the Seawolves paid no mind.
Stony Brook sophomore corner Darin Peart took the ensuing kickoff 60 yards down the field to New Hampshire’s 24-yard-line with one second left on the clock. From there, senior quarterback Conor Bednarski hit sophomore wide receiver Ray Bolden with a fade of his own for the wideout’s second score of the game as the Wildcats corner defending him tripped in pursuit. The play extended Priore’s team’s advantage from four to 11 at halftime, a lead they would never give up.
“Field goals aren’t going to win games at the collegiate level, touchdowns are. So, we went for it,” Priore said. “Conor made a fantastic throw, Ray Bolden ran a great route, and it was awesome.”
New Hampshire looked to dig its teeth into the game with a 51-yard drive to open the second half, but Stony Brook’s defense came up with a crucial stop on fourth down. Junior defensive back Kye Morgan shot in to stop Wildcat and native Long Islander, junior running back Dalton Crossan, giving his offense the ball.
Junior running back Stacey Bedell took it from there, rushing 57 yards down the field with a burst of speed to the delight of the home crowd before getting caught. That set up a four-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Donald Liotine, extending Stony Brook’s lead to 18.
After a few quick drives with nothing to show for either side, redshirt freshman Joe Carbone handed it off to Bedell on third and 13, and the running back would not be caught again. He sprinted his way to a 51-yard touchdown, Bedell’s fourth of the season.
With only 1:36 left on the clock in the third quarter, it was only a formality from there. Like it did all game long, Stony Brook’s defense snuffed out any opportunities with a potent pass rush and rock-solid rush defense. Senior defensive end Victor Ochi led the way with three and a half sacks in his 11-tackle-performance.
“Honestly the biggest issue we had last year was finishing you know and this whole offseason, that was dedicated to finishing,” Ochi said about pulling away in the second half. “ We knew the position we were already in. The boys were ready to play.”
Sophomore cornerback Marvin Hart sealed a second-half-shutout as he grabbed freshman quarterback Trevor Knight’s pass for an interception in the endzone with only 3:39 to go.
Bedell led all players with 193 yards on 21 carries, averaging over nine yards per rush.
“We came back out and used that momentum [from the end of the first half],” he said. “We capitalized well, offensive line blocked great, receivers blocked great down field and it helped spring me.”
Carbone, like he did in last week’s game against Central Connecticut State, came in to take some snaps for Stony Brook. After stalling due to a holding penalty on his first drive, the Connecticut native came right back and found Bolden for a three-yard score, the first touchdown at Stony Brook for either player.
Perhaps the only negative from the game happened before things really started. According to Priore, senior starting linebacker Rahim Cassell suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff.
The Seawolves take their undefeated record to Virginia next Saturday for another conference matchup, this time against William & Mary. The Tribe hung in there in a six-point loss against the University of Virginia on Saturday, dropping to 1-1 on the season.
“I think it’s a step that Stony Brook needs to take, obviously,” Priore said about a program-best win. “We have figured out how to not to worry about losing, and how to understand how to win, and I think that was the exclamation point tonight.”