After a blowout win against Central Connecticut State University last week, Stony Brook football will open up its Colonial Athletic Association schedule against the reigning conference champion New Hampshire Wildcats on Saturday night at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
The Wildcats, who have made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in each of the last 11 seasons, have not lost a conference game since Nov. 2, 2013, taking their last 12 CAA matchups.
This year, New Hampshire placed third in the annual CAA preseason coaches’ poll. They opened up against FBS-member San Jose State and lost 43-13, but won last week against Colgate, 26-8.
“We’re playing against a premier program at the FCS level,” Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore said of New Hampshire. “They’re the favorites, as they should be. So we’re going to have to show up, play hard, play each play, and hopefully be fortunate enough to be in the game in the fourth quarter.”
Getting to the fourth quarter might be tough, but it is something Stony Brook has done before. Last year, the Seawolves lost 28-20, but were within one point of the lead during the fourth quarter.
New Hampshire is still a strong team this season, although the Wildcats have lost several key contributors on offense. Their leading rusher and top two leading receivers have graduated, so this year’s Wildcats are much younger and less experienced than last year’s bunch that ranked second in CAA scoring offense.
Their signal caller, however, has plenty of experience. Senior quarterback Sean Goldrich has become one of the CAA’s better quarterbacks over the last four years. Last season, he completed 63.7 percent of his passes and recorded 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
This season, the Wildcats have also expressed a tendency to run the ball. Senior and sophomore running backs Dalton Crossan and Trevon Bryant each played well against Colgate, with Crossan running for 96 yards and Bryant for 70.
“You talk about the success that coaches have had there every week,” Priore said of New Hampshire’s winning pedigree. “They’re scoring points and playing good defense.”
Stony Brook will need to rely on their defensive line for this matchup. Goldrich has a mostly inexperienced receiving corps, so rushing him will be of the utmost importance. Additionally, stopping a stellar run attack could stifle New Hampshire’s day offensively. Senior defensive lineman Victor Ochi, who led the team with 16.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks last year, will need to be in midseason form on Saturday to ensure the defensive line is a major part of the game.
“I tell the offensive linemen who I work with [in practice] that they’re going to see the best combo of kids that play the right game physically and fundamentally right now,” Priore said of Stony Brook’s defensive line.
Like Stony Brook, New Hampshire also has a solid defense. The Wildcats allowed the second-fewest points in the CAA last year. They ranked only sixth in the 12-team CAA in rushing defense, which means junior running back Stacey Bedell will likely get plenty of touches. Another back, freshman Isaiah White, could factor into the mix as well after he recorded 103 yards in his Seawolves debut last week.
“Isaiah is very prepped to play college,” Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said of the Longwood High School graduate. “He’s physically strong, he’s not like the normal freshman. Very early in preseason camp, we thought he’d be able to make a difference in the season. He’s probably a bit ahead of schedule, rushing for over 100 yards in your first contest but he showed us things throughout preseason he’s doing real well.”
The running game will likely provide most of Stony Brook’s firepower on Saturday, but there will be attention on the passing game as well. Priore said that while senior quarterback Conor Bednarski remains the starter, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Carbone will receive some playing time as well. Carbone played the entire second half for Stony Brook last week after Priore pulled Bednarski due to a sore throwing shoulder. The senior signal-caller had surgery on that shoulder in the offseason.
“Conor’s our starting QB, Joe will play some each game,” Priore said of the quarterback duo. “Joe came in and did what we thought he could do. We’re going to utilize [both quarterbacks] correctly.”
New Hampshire had the seventh-best pass defense in the CAA last year. Stony Brook will likely play to its strengths with a ground-and-pound approach, but both quarterbacks will need to efficiently manage the game for the Seawolves to effectively run the ball.
“Honestly it all starts with the quarterback position,” Priore said. “The consistency on offense starts there. You got to be strong up the middle and to be able to run the football.”
Ending New Hampshire’s 12-game CAA winning streak would represent a statement victory at the start of conference play for Stony Brook. Since joining the CAA in 2013, the Seawolves are just 7-9 in conference play. It will be difficult, but if Stony Brook pulled off a victory, it would be the biggest win for the program since it changed conferences two years ago.