The Stony Brook football team in a game against Villanova on March 7. The Seawolves lost to the Wildcats 16-13. KATHERINE PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

Looking to turn the tide from a disappointing 2019 season, the Stony Brook football team returned to the turf on Saturday, March 6 for the 2021 spring season opener at home against the No. 5 Villanova Wildcats. Late miscues sunk Stony Brook in a 16-13 defeat, but the offense struggled to find its footing throughout the game and did not convert a single third down.

“We certainly lost the game that way, because in the first half, [Villanova] was 7-for-10 [on third downs],” head coach Chuck Priore said in a postgame press conference. “We’ve got to go back and look at our ability to make those plays.”

The Seawolves’ fate was grim, down by two scores with only 3:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, before redshirt-junior tight end Anthony Del Negro blocked a Villanova punt to set Stony Brook up in the Villanova red zone. Four plays later, freshman running back Jayden Cook punched it in from two yards out.

Although redshirt-freshman kicker Angelo Guglielmello appeared to convert the point-after to make it a 16-14 game, a penalty moved the kick back five yards. He missed the second try. Making his collegiate debut, Guglielmello also fell short on a 40-yarder in the second quarter.

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With 2:45 left and two timeouts, Stony Brook could have had one final possession if it held Villanova to a three-and-out. The Seawolves’ defense had limited the Wildcats to three points, 110 yards and just one third-down conversion for the entirety of the second half.

Instead, the Seawolves lined up for an onside kick and Villanova returned the ball to Stony Brook’s 15-yard line. 

“If we had three timeouts, I probably would have kicked it,” Priore said. “With two timeouts, if they get one first down, the game’s over.”

Stony Brook never got the ball back. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Makye Smith gave the Wildcats the game-sealing first down on what would have been third-and-long.

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Del Negro’s punt block gave the Seawolves the short field they needed down 16-7 without time on their side. Stony Brook had reached Villanova territory on its previous drive but punted on fourth down with only seven minutes left, still needing to score twice.

“Other than a couple of screen passes throughout the game, I thought we played the run really, really well,” Priore said about Stony Brook’s defensive performance. “We didn’t let them get the ball behind us. They had the one big touchdown play, but I think overall, we competed hard.”

The Seawolves’ front seven did a strong job of stuffing the Wildcats’ run game, which averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. Instead, Villanova found success by targeting sophomore wide receiver Rayjoun Pringle, who was matched up against Stony Brook redshirt-junior defensive back Jabari Reddock for most of the first half, and hauled in nine receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown.

Injuries weakened Stony Brook even before kickoff. Redshirt-sophomore Ty Son Lawton, the starting running back, did not play on Saturday. In his place, redshirt-freshman Jadon Turner led the team with 65 yards on 10 carries but sustained an injury of his own. The team was also without three of its wide receivers.

“Two of the guys that played today have not even practiced,” Priore said. “Three [wide receivers] weren’t even suited up for the game because of injuries. I think it’s been a difficult preseason, between injury and COVID, to execute those types of things.”

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Redshirt-senior quarterback Tyquell Fields completed 14 of his 25 pass attempts for 143 yards, also gaining 35 yards and a touchdown on six rushes. Fields was also picked off at the Villanova 7-yard line as Stony Brook was driving midway through the first quarter.

Fields’ wide receiver corps on Saturday was full of new faces, including redshirt-junior Khalil Newton from Ball State. However, it was a returning player, redshirt-junior Delante Hellams Jr., who led the team with three catches for 51 yards.

The series between these two teams had recently been defined by comebacks. Stony Brook upset Villanova 36-35 in 2019 off a last-second field goal to erase an 18-point deficit. In 2018, the Seawolves came back from being down 21-0 to stun the Wildcats 29-27. The Seawolves fell down 13-0 by halftime on Saturday but could not climb all the way back a third straight time.

Stony Brook will look for its first win of the season next Saturday, March 13 in Newark as the Seawolves take on the Delaware Blue Hens at 12 p.m.

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