It was a happy homecoming after all for the Stony Brook football team, as a second-half turnaround led to its first win of the 2022 season.
The Seawolves (1-6, 1-4 CAA) took advantage of their first unranked FCS opponent this year, beating the Maine Black Bears 28-27 in comeback fashion. It was a tale of two halves, with Stony Brook entering halftime down 20-7.
Quarterback Charlie McKee was the story of the day in his second career start. The energy in Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium flipped after the game was put in his hands, and he completed 18 of his 21 passes. McKee conducted three scoring drives in the second half, throwing three touchdowns to three different receivers. The defense gave him the support he needed to pull off the comeback, allowing just 168 yards and one touchdown in the second half.
“The guys around me played well,” McKee said in a postgame press conference. “Guys outside made plays, guys up front protected me well. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”
The game started just as strong as it finished for Stony Brook. The offense marched right down the field on Maine’s defense, going 75 yards in nine plays on the opening drive. McKee connected with three different receivers on intermediate passes and gave them some running room after the catch to set them up inside the red zone. Running back Ross Tallarico finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run, reaching the ball across the goal line to break the plane.
After that drive, head coach Chuck Priore went with a more conservative approach to his playcalling. The offense only had one dropback over the next two drives and it resulted in a sack of McKee. Overall, McKee wound up only attempting seven total passes in the first half. The Seawolves only gained 45 yards on 19 plays after the opening drive, leading to Maine controlling the flow of the game.
“We’re playing with a freshman quarterback,” Priore said in a postgame press conference. “With injuries that have happened in the backfield, we haven’t really protected him as well. When we got off the field last Saturday, we decided that we were going to let the freshman quarterback have a chance to be successful.”
Maine quarterback Joe Fagnano and his offense had their way with the Seawolves’ defense in the first half. Fagnano used Maine’s quick-strike offense to pick apart Stony Brook early, throwing for over 200 yards in the first half. He also made plays with his legs, picking up three more first downs on scrambles.
The Black Bears’ constant pre-snap motion and misdirection plays helped distract the Stony Brook defense and keep it off balance. They were also able to generate several chunk plays on the Seawolves, none bigger than a 42-yard, catch-and-run touchdown pass to tight end Shawn Bowman. Maine went into the locker room with a commanding 20-7 lead.
“They’re a good offensive team; they’ve been good all year,” Priore said. “They use their skill well.”
The Seawolves’ faithful were not pleased with the first-half performance. As the team entered the locker rooms at halftime, it was met with a shower of boos from the crowd. However, Stony Brook won back the fans’ approval with a dominant second half.
After opening the third quarter with a three-and-out on defense, the Seawolves took over at their own 24. After a big run by running back Jayden Cook was nullified due to a penalty, the team threw its way back into the game. McKee found wide receiver RJ Lamarre for 10 yards before airing out a 48-yard bomb to wide receiver Delante Hellams Jr. The big play set the Seawolves up in the red zone, where McKee finished the drive with a touchdown pass to Lamarre on a third-down play.
Stony Brook cut the score to 20-14, but Maine answered right away on the ensuing drive. Fagnano hit Bowman on a 37-yard strike, setting up running back Elijah Barnwell for a 12-yard rushing touchdown out of the wildcat formation.
Now down 27-14, McKee and company marched right back down the field to score a second-consecutive touchdown. McKee connected with wide receiver Tyler Devera three times on the drive, ending it with a one-yard touchdown pass to him on fourth and goal. Cook and Tallarico also ran a combined six times for 28 yards on the drive to help balance out the offense.
Stony Brook’s defense forced a punt on the ensuing drive, but its offense went three-and-out after a drop by Hellams Jr. Punter Clayton Taylor shanked the ensuing punt, giving Maine the ball back at midfield.
The Seawolves held tough and got the stop when they needed one desperately. After forcing an incompletion on third down and three from the 31-yard line, Maine rolled the dice and went for it. However, linebacker Reidgee Dimanche and cornerback Shamel Lazarus combined to make a tackle for loss on a screen pass to take momentum back.
“We were just running to the ball and playing our brand of defense,” Dimanche said in a postgame press conference. “Every time we went back out there, we just kept fighting as a team. We all did our jobs, and we just kept fighting.”
With 8:32 left and trailing by six, McKee let his receivers make plays for him and conducted the game-winning drive. After picking up a first down around midfield, McKee hit tight end Damien Caffrey in the flat, leading to a broken tackle and a long run down the sideline for a 35-yard gain. Two plays later, McKee threaded the needle to Devera to set up a goal-to-go situation.
On first and goal from the seven, McKee came under pressure and rolled out to his left before throwing off-balanced to the back left corner of the end zone. Wide receiver Khalil Newton laid out and made the catch in traffic, surviving the ground for the touchdown. Kicker Angelo Guglielmello’s extra point was good, giving Stony Brook a one-point lead with 5:48 to play.
“Coming out, we said we were going to throw the football a little bit more,” McKee said. “We were able to spread the ball around a little bit more. We were able to make some plays and positive things happened.”
After McKee handed the defense a lead to protect, Dimanche and his crew went to work. The defense forced a three-and-out, giving the offense a chance to chew the clock. However, the Black Bears returned the favor and burned only one timeout, giving themselves three minutes to attempt a game-winning drive.
Taylor pinned Maine at its own 11 with a 41-yard punt. Though Fagnano drove his team to Stony Brook’s 28, a clutch pass breakup by strong safety Jordan Jackson brought up a fourth down and four. Maine opted to try for the game-winning field goal, but kicker Cole Baker’s attempt pushed wide left.
“It feels great,” Dimanche said. “Winning on a day like this is astounding.”
McKee’s performance was one of the best by a Seawolf quarterback in recent memory. He threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns without throwing a pick. Of his three incompletions, two were drops. In the second half, McKee went 13-of-14 for 192 yards and all three of his touchdown passes. His 249 yards were the most since Tyquell Fields’ 255 against New Hampshire last September. It was also the first three-touchdown performance by a Stony Brook quarterback since Fields did it against Albany in 2019.
“He’s got that ‘it-factor’,” Priore said. “I’m happy for him. He’ll be starting; we’re not going to waver from that, obviously. I’m excited for him and the progress he’s made.”
Another standout for Stony Brook was Cook. Playing in the absence of running back Ty Son Lawton, he rushed for a career-high 92 yards. Most of his yards were after contact. He tallied 27 total touches for 111 scrimmage yards. Unfortunately, Priore confirmed after the game that Cook suffered another high ankle sprain, likely ending his season.
Lamarre’s touchdown catch was the first of his NCAA career. Also, Tallarico’s rushing touchdown was the first of his career. He now has four total touchdowns this year: one rushing, two receiving and one passing.
Maine won the battle on the stat sheet, but that was it. Stony Brook was outgained and picked up fewer first downs. The Black Bears also outrushed the Seawolves 116-114, but only 51 of those rushing yards actually came from running backs. Outside of Fagnano’s scrambling, Stony Brook was able to stop the run effectively.
Another huge difference for Stony Brook was its situational play. The offense scored a touchdown in all four of its red zone trips, while the defense was able to force a field goal before the first half ended. Stony Brook won the time of possession battle, too. Though the third-down defense was not good, the defense still came up with clutch stops.
Next on the Seawolves’ plate is the Battle for the Golden Apple, as the team will travel upstate to take on the Albany Great Danes. Opening kickoff is scheduled for next Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Stony Brook has won the last two meetings between the two.