Stony Brook Football head coach Chuck Priore said that it has been a long five weeks for the Seawolves. They lost five games in a row after an encouraging 2-0 start. But when junior defensive lineman Aaron Thompson spoke to the team after practice and team meetings on Friday, everyone listened.
“We haven’t been as physical as we usually are. We’ve got to get our mojo back,” senior defensive lineman Victor Ochi said Thompson told the squad. “We took that to heart and then we came out and performed well. I love the way our team responded to that.”
They responded alright, as Stony Brook’s 12 sacks on the day was the most of any NCAA Division I team this season, leading the way in a 14-9 victory over Howard at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on Saturday.
Priore said that heading into the contest against the 1-7 Bison, the Seawolves thought their opponent’s biggest strength was their offensive line.
Yet Ochi, who recorded three sacks to tie Stony Brook’s career record for sacks with 29, and the rest of the line, put pressure on sophomore quarterback Kalen Johnson whenever they pleased.
“Nobody was trying to be selfish or anything,” Ochi said. “We all just followed our assignments and executed fast.”
Despite dominating the Bison and keeping them to 109 total yards on the day, the tide turned in the fourth quarter.
The Bison gained more than 10 yards on only two of their first 11 drives. However, on their 12th drive of the game, a 25-yard completion on third down and 20 got Johnson’s team right back in it, as he found freshman wide receiver Guy Lemonier for an 18-yard touchdown just five plays later.
It was a one possession game, and a third down and seven was all that kept Howard from getting the ball back for a shot at taking the lead.
That was when sophomore running back Donald Liotine carried the ball 45 yards, deep into Howard territory, virtually ending the game.
“Obviously we were shorthanded at tailback going into the game and Tyler Fredericks got hurt in pregame so we had two healthy tailbacks,” Priore said. “We needed our backs and our line to step to the plate and Donnie [Liotine] ran the ball. We had a lot of stars up there up front.”
After running the ball a total of 59 times in the first seven games of the season, Liotine rushed it 38 times for 204 yards and both of Stony Brook’s touchdowns.
“He’s a walk-on,” Priore pointed out, saying that Liotine is not on a scholarship. “He’s worked his tail off.”
But it was Liotine who shouldered the load, taking 90 percent of the carries out of the backfield for Stony Brook. It was a role that he may not have been used to, but took in stride just the same.
“When they call my name I’ve got to be ready to answer,” Liotine said. “Fatigue doesn’t really take in until right now, after the game when my back hurts and all that but during the game all I’m thinking about is producing and being there.”
Senior quarterback Conor Bednarski also got his name called. After redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Carbone threw an early interception, the senior played the rest of the game and threw for 95 yards without turning the ball over once.
“The offensive coordinator and I had talked on Friday and Conor had a really good week ,and we talked about playing Conor at some point during the game,” Priore said. “It was good to have the senior leadership on the field.”
But where some of the team’s leaders were not able to be on the field—sophomore defensive back Tyrice Beverette, senior linebacker Trokon-Rahim Cassell II and senior offensive lineman Jerry Hubshman all were out with injuries—younger players stepped in.
Redshirt freshmen linebackers Shayne Lawless and Noah McGinty did their jobs, totaling 7.5 tackles in the game.
On the offensive side, walk-on junior offensive lineman Mike White filled in for Hubshman. White had only played in two games in his college career.
“They have high energy, they’re young kids and they’re so excited about playing football,” Priore said. “They bring that energy to the field to those older guys.”
Despite the recent struggles, Ochi put it best as far as how the team had to bounce back.
“We can’t just walk around and let people walk all over us,” Ochi said. “We still got to come back strong every week and eventually we got the win.