Turnovers on three straight drives in the second quarter put the Stony Brook football team in what appeared to be an insurmountable hole. But with an active defense that grabbed takeaways of its own and an offense that was finally able to complete big plays, the Seawolves fell 19 yards shy of completing what would have been an all-time comeback, ultimately falling 27-21 to the New Hampshire Wildcats at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 2 in the season opener.
“We did not play well offensively in the first half,” head coach Chuck Priore said in a postgame press conference. “We just didn’t perform up to our ability and were able to regroup at halftime. I’m disappointed but encouraged by the way we finished.”
Down 27-0 midway through the third quarter, Stony Brook avoided the shutout when redshirt junior running back Ty Son Lawton capped off a seven-play, 74-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown. On the first snap of the ensuing New Hampshire drive, redshirt freshman linebacker Tyler King forced a fumble that the Seawolves recovered. Graduate quarterback Tyquell Fields took advantage of the opportunity, finishing the drive by airing out a 41-yard deep ball to redshirt senior wide receiver Khalil Newton to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 13.
After New Hampshire’s subsequent drive abruptly ended with senior defensive back Akeal Lalaind returning another fumble 48 yards into the Wildcats’ red zone, there was no doubt that the momentum had switched completely to Stony Brook’s side. Forcing turnovers on two straight possessions was what the Seawolves needed to overcome a gaping deficit caused by their own miscues.
The Seawolves did not play a flawless game from that point out — redshirt sophomore kicker Angelo Guglielmello missed a 36-yard field goal, and Fields was sacked on a fourth-and-goal early in the fourth quarter to come up empty on two red zone possessions. However, they didn’t need to when their defense was as locked in as they were in the second half. New Hampshire either turned the ball over or went three-and-out on six consecutive drives after going up 27-0.
A successful goal-line stand right before halftime provided Stony Brook’s defense with extra motivation heading into the locker room.
“It carried over into the second half,” King said in a postgame press conference. “But we just needed that momentum the whole game. We can’t wait until we’re down 20-0 to make big plays like that and get the crowd involved. We need to get started off hot.”
Off New Hampshire’s third fumble of the second half, Fields began to flash the dual-threat nature that defines his game. He had a 29-yard rush that moved the ball into Wildcats territory, and kept the ball again on a third down in the red zone, finding paydirt to make it 27-21.
Stony Brook appeared to line up for the onside kick, but Priore trusted his defense by giving the ball back to New Hampshire with 2:58 left. The Wildcats ran the ball three straight times, unable to convert.
“[Priore] has a lot of trust in us,” King said. “The defense has been putting in the work and it showed in times when we were really close to making a splash play.”
Fields got the ball back with exactly two minutes to go, needing 56 yards. Propelled by a key fourth down catch by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Shawn Harris Jr. near the sidelines, the Seawolves drove all the way down to the New Hampshire 19-yard line with under 30 seconds to go. Unfortunately, three straight incompletions ended Stony Brook’s comeback bid.
“I think we executed [the two-minute offense] pretty well,” Fields said in a postgame press conference. “It comes down to a couple of plays in the last couple of seconds. We can’t bank on that. In the first half, we’ve got to come out stronger so we won’t be put in that position.”
In contrast to Fields, a grizzled veteran entering his sixth season on the team and his third as the Seawolves’ starting quarterback, New Hampshire starting quarterback Bret Edwards was thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly. With just one career start behind his belt, the original second-stringer was tasked with having to go on the road for the season opener after sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer tore his ACL and was ruled out for the year.
After going three-and-out on his first drive, Edwards put together a series that gave the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish. He converted a third-and-long early on that set the tone for the rest of the possession, as New Hampshire converted five first downs on an 11-play, 84-yard drive that ended in Edwards passing for the first of three touchdowns on the night.
Edwards showed off his mobility, evading sacks in the pocket by scrambling away from Seawolves defenders who were inches away from bringing him down. He finished 17-for-25 with 233 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think we played good defense throughout the game,” Priore said. “We held them to 12 first downs … We just had some miscues in the first half that can’t happen. They don’t fall on any specific person, they fall on the entire organization.”
That second quarter proved fatal for the Seawolves, who turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, all of which resulted in the Wildcats beginning a drive in the red zone. Redshirt freshman running back Jayden Cook coughed the ball up at his own 4-yard line, allowing Edwards to pitch the ball to junior wide receiver Sean Coyne for the score one play later.
On the next drive, Fields threw to redshirt senior wide receiver Delante Hellams Jr. in traffic; the ball was tipped, intercepted and returned to the Stony Brook 5-yard line. Edwards responded by giving the Wildcats a 20-0 lead. Fields was then picked off on a second straight drive, this time on a deep throw that was brought back 65 yards the other way, but the Seawolves’ defense got the stop at their own end zone.
Aiming to build off of the strong second half display, Stony Brook will venture to Hamilton, New York on Saturday, Sept. 11 to take on Colgate in a non-conference matchup at 1 p.m.