One of the most successful seasons in Stony Brook Football history came to a sputtering end on Saturday against the reigning Football Championship Subdivision national champions, James Madison, in the second round of the FCS playoffs. The top-seeded Dukes picked off Seawolves junior quarterback Joe Carbone five times en route to a 26-7 victory at Bridgeforth Stadium.
““I thought we played hard to the final whistle,” Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore said in a post-game press conference. “The game was closer than the scoreboard in terms of how things went of the field, but we didn’t perform up to our capabilities.”
Everything that had worked for Stony Brook offensively this season stalled against a James Madison defense that allowed an FCS-best nine points per game entering the week. The Seawolves failed to execute consistently, getting shut out through three quarters even though the team’s 311 total yards exceeded the Dukes’ 304 total yards.
James Madison found the endzone immediately, needing only two minutes and 35 seconds of game clock to march down the field and score on the opening drive. Senior quarterback Bryan Schor kept the ball in the air the entire drive, completing all eight of his pass attempts.
For the next 15 minutes of game clock, the Colonial Athletic Association regular season champion Dukes and second place Seawolves traded punts. Despite receiving consistently favorable field position, the Stony Brook offense could not find its way on the scoreboard.
The Seawolves defense, however, played as well as it had all season. James Madison rushers ran for 49 yards and a touchdown on 38 attempts. Twice in the second quarter, Stony Brook’s defense held the Dukes to field goals after Carbone interceptions gave the reigning champions excellent field position. With a minute to go in the half, James Madison faced first and goal from the one-yard line and was eventually forced to settle for a field goal.
Even though Schor finished with two touchdowns and 255 yards on 26-35 passing, Stony Brook defenders sacked him five times, including twice by junior outside linebacker Shayne Lawless. Senior safety Chris Cooper, sophomore nose tackle Brandon Lopez and junior middle linebacker Noah McGinty each had one.
Stony Brook’s lone touchdown was a 37-yard pass from Carbone to graduate wide receiver Harrison Jackson in the fourth quarter. The corner-covering Jackson tripped and fell, leaving Jackson a wide open path to the end zone. It was all the Seawolves could hope for, down 26-7 with 11 minutes to go.
On the day Carbone threw his 24th touchdown pass of the season, the third-most in program history. He also threw five interceptions. His performance on Saturday was a sharp contrast to what he showcased throughout the rest of his breakout junior season. After throwing four times as many interceptions as touchdowns in his first two seasons, Carbone threw only three all year and just one against FCS opponents entering Saturday.
The blame for Saturday’s loss cannot be put entirely on Carbone, who finished with 207 yards on 15-36 passing. Two of the interceptions came off tipped passes. The fifth came on a garbage time, desperation throw. Priore told the media after the game that Carbone’s shoulder ailed him after he took a hard hit during the first drive of the game. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Tyquell Fields was pressed into service throughout the game for short stints.
One week after scoring six touchdowns and rushing for 370 yards against Lehigh, Stony Brook running backs scratched out 104 yards on the ground. The inability to establish a run game, a season-long advantage for the Seawolves, hurt the team on Saturday. Frequently faced with long yardage situations, Carbone rushed and miscalculated passes in an attempt to keep Stony Brook in the game.
Even though it ended with a loss, the Seawolves’ 10-3 season was the program’s most successful since 2012. The team’s 10 wins this season was the first time Stony Brook has won more than five games in a season since moving to the CAA after the 2012 season. The Seawolves finished the regular season ranked No. 10 in the FCS STATS poll, the team’s highest since the final week of 2012. The second round playoff exit also matches their previous trips to the FCS playoffs in 2011 and 2012.
The fact that Stony Brook even made it this far was exceeding expectations. At the beginning of the season, CAA coaches and media directors predicted the Seawolves would finish eighth out of 12 in the conference. Instead they finished second, behind James Madison, the reigning FCS national champions who have not lost since the first week of the 2016 season.
While the two teams have not met in the regular season since 2015, Stony Brook will travel back to Harrisonburg, Virginia next season on Oct. 27, 2018.