Senior running back Stacey Bedell in a game against Sacred Heart in 2016. Despite Bedell’s exceptional performance against South Florida, the Seawolves fell to the Bulls 31-17.  ARACELY JIMENEZ/STATESMAN FILE

Stony Brook Football’s 2017 season began Saturday afternoon with the Seawolves taking a top-25 Football Bowl Subdivision team to the edge, losing 31-17 to USF on the road in a game that the Seawolves led at the half. Only four teams in the Football Championship Subdivision – college football’s second tier – have ever beaten a top-25 FBS team before.

The Bulls, ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press’ sportswriter poll and No. 21 in the USA Today Coaches poll, were supposed to run away with the game. As an FCS team that has never defeated a ranked FBS opponent, Stony Brook should never have been up 10-7 at the half or tied 17-17 with under 12 minutes to go in the game.

Yet, the Seawolves brought the Bulls to the brink thanks to exceptional defense, a blocked punt and senior running back Stacey Bedell’s fourth quarter 54-yard touchdown run.

Two minutes into the fourth quarter, junior quarterback Joe Carbone handed it off to Bedell at the 46-yard line. Bedell swept to the left side, avoided blitzing defenders and found a hole opened by key blocks from senior offensive lineman Timon Parris and senior tight end Connor Davis.

The USF defense was no match for Bedell’s speed as he turned up field, through the hole, and sprinted past hapless defenders for the 54-yard score, his first of the season. USF responded with two more touchdowns – a 65-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Tyre McCants on the next drive and a 14-yard touchdown rush by senior running back Darius Tice after a fate-sealing Carbone interception with less than three minutes to go.

Stony Brook started the scoring by blocking a USF first quarter punt. With 6:57 left in the first quarter, USF senior punter Jonathan Hernandez was punting from inside his own endzone after a three-and-out. Walk-on sophomore Andrew Trent got a hand on it, ricocheting it towards the punt team’s left. Stony Brook players swarmed and redshirt freshman defensive back Augie Contressa jumped on the ball to score in his first collegiate game.

USF immediately responded with a nine play, 73-yard drive that culminated with a touchdown after three straight rushes from six yards out by Tice.

The Seawolves took the lead back on a 36-yard field goal off the boot of junior kicker Alex Lucansky with four minutes to go in the half. USF would score twice late in the third quarter to take a 17-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Seawolves held the Bulls to their lowest score and lowest total yards since Oct. 31, 2015, despite most of USF’s top offensive contributors from 2016 returning to the field this season. Stony Brook held USF to 339 yards – 40 percent of which came in the fourth quarter as defenders grew visibly tired in Tampa’s 90 percent humidity. In 2016, USF averaged 512 yards a game and was held to under 400 yards only once, by Temple, another top-25 team.

Prospective Heisman candidate, USF senior quarterback Quinton Flowers was also held to his lowest output in a game he played start-to-finish since Oct. 31, 2015. The Stony Brook defense held the Miami-product to 253 total yards, far less than his 2016 season average of 334 total yards per game.

Stony Brook’s offense struggled when faced with the barrage of blitzes USF sent all game long. Carbone was sacked five times and Bulls’ defenders made 12 tackles for a loss, stifling the Seawolves’ running game. Four running backs split time in the backfield, managing only 92 total rushing yards.

The passing attack was slightly more successful for the Seawolves. Carbone connected on 50 percent of his 34 passes – the most attempted passes by a Stony Brook quarterback since Carbone threw 41 times in a loss to Elon on Oct. 31, 2015.

Graduate wide receiver Harrison Jackson caught three passes on six targets for 34 yards in his first action since a season-ending injury last September. Eight receivers had at least one reception.

On defense, junior linebacker Shayne Lawless lead the way with 13 tackles (ten solo) and a sack. Junior linebacker Noah McGinty had ten tackles. Senior defensive back Chris Cooper set a career high with nine tackles.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, senior defensive back Tyrice Beverette hurt himself tackling a USF receiver. Last year’s team leader in tackles and interceptions limped off the field under his own recognition nursing his right arm and leg.

The game, while not an actual victory, was undoubtedly a moral one for a team trying to contend for the CAA conference title and compete at a higher level. Additionally, the game was a financial victory for Stony Brook. Newsday reported the university will receive a $425,000 payout for playing USF, a commonplace arrangement between FBS and FCS teams.

Next Saturday at 1 p.m., the Seawolves stay on the road to play conference opponent Rhode Island, who Stony Brook beat 14-3 last season. The Rams opened the 2017 season with a 30-27 triple-overtime loss to Central Michigan.