After dropping its home finale in heartbreaking fashion, the Stony Brook football team will look to close out its rough 2022 season on a high note with a win against Monmouth.
The Seawolves (2-8, 1-6 CAA) lost a back-and-forth affair to Towson on Saturday and fell to 21-17 in a hard-fought battle that featured multiple lead changes. The loss gave the team eight for the year, tying the program’s single-season record. This Saturday at noon, Stony Brook will look to avoid making history and take something positive into the offseason.
This will be the two teams’ first head-to-head matchup since 2006. Like the Seawolves, the Hawks are having a forgettable season. They are currently 4-6 overall and 2-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). They enter this contest coming off a bye and looking to snap a four-game skid.
Despite its subpar record, Monmouth has had the best offense in the CAA this season. Through 10 games, the Hawks lead the CAA in both scoring and total offense with 37.6 points and 466 yards per game. Stony Brook ranks at the bottom in both categories, averaging 14.5 points and 289.2 yards per game.
Monmouth’s passing attack has been solid this year, ranking fifth in the CAA with 20 passing touchdowns and 232.1 yards per game. However, starting quarterback Tony Muskett has missed the last two games with an injury. According to Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan, Muskett has been progressing well, and the team hopes he will suit up this Saturday.
“Tony continues to rehab and get better and he was looking really good yesterday,” Callahan said in a press conference on Monday. “We’re hopeful that he’ll be able to get some practice time in and possibly play on Saturday.”
Muskett has been good for Monmouth this year. In eight games played, he has thrown for 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions while averaging 249.6 yards per game. He is also completing 64.1% of his passes.
Behind Muskett, the team’s rushing attack has been its bread and butter this season. The Hawks are second in the CAA with 233.9 rushing yards per game and have rushed for a staggering 31 touchdowns.
The Hawks one-two punch in the backfield has been the best combo in the CAA by far. Running backs Jaden Shirden and Owen Wright have been unstoppable this season. Shirden gets the bulk of the carries for Monmouth and has become the FCS’s leading rusher with 1,567 yards on the ground. He also leads the CAA in yards per carry with 8.6.
Shirden ranks second in the conference in rushing touchdowns with 12. Fortunately for the Hawks, he also ranks second on his own team in that category, as Wright has rushed for 15 touchdowns on only 63 carries this season.
Wright is not a qualified rushing leader in the conference due to his lack of carries, but that has not stopped him. He even rushed for a 99-yard touchdown against Albany on Oct. 8. He also added a receiving touchdown to his tally against Georgetown, making him the conference’s leading scorer.
As somebody who has an eye for running back talent, head coach Chuck Priore commended Shirden during his press conference on Monday.
“Well, he creates the big plays,” Priore said. “He can take it from the line of scrimmage, he gets through there and you’re generally not catching him. But, he’s a physical runner, too. He breaks tackles, he finishes runs. I’m very impressed with him as a player and it will surely be challenging to control him.”
Luckily for Stony Brook, the team’s biggest strength this season has been controlling the run game. The Seawolves’ defense has limited their opponents to 134.9 rushing yards per game on the year, good enough for fourth in the CAA. Linebacker Aidan Kaler had a good day defending the run against Towson, racking up 12 tackles in the contest. Look for Kaler to make an impact in this week’s game as well.
“He’s a quality football player,” Priore said. “I think we knew we had positive things there. He was injured all of last year so he wasn’t able to play, so this is really his first campaign playing CAA football. He’s done a really nice job.”
The Seawolves best chance to win this game will come through keeping the Monmouth offense on the sidelines. The Hawks have been as bad defensively as they have been good offensively. They have both the worst total and scoring defense in the conference. They are not strong against the pass or the run.
To capitalize on the Hawks’ weak defense, Stony Brook will have to rely on running backs Ross Tallarico and Makhai Jinks. If the Seawolves can run the ball against Monmouth, they will be able to control the clock and keep their opponent’s deadly offense on the sideline. However, Stony Brook has had several weak defensive opponents this year (Fordham, Albany, Towson) and has failed to do anything with those matchups.
Quarterback Daron Bryden will likely be the starter once again after playing his best game in the NCAA last week. He will likely make Harris Jr. his number one option again as he did last week. Despite the drop in the endzone, Harris Jr. had a fantastic game against Towson. He caught six passes for a career-high 135 yards and a 70-yard touchdown, his first of the season.
Look for wide receiver Khalil Newton to be in the mix, too, as he leads the team in touchdown receptions with four. Saturday will be his last game in the NCAA; the graduate student is now out of eligibility to return.
Along with Newton, several other notable players will be completing their college careers, like right guard Kyle Nuñez and outside linebacker Carthell Flowers-Lloyd. Just like Nuñez, wide receiver Delante Hellams Jr. and free safety Randy Pringle are team captains who will be playing in their final games. Linebacker and team captain Reidgee Dimanche is injured and will miss the game, but he is also done after Saturday.
“We’re going to go out on the field, regardless of our record, like it’s the first game this Saturday and we’re going to have fun doing it,” Priore said. “We’ll celebrate the last game for a lot of kids on both sides of the field and move forward.”
While Stony Brook has had a challenging regular season, this game still has historic implications for the program. If the team loses, it will stand alone as having the most losses in school history. Then again, with Monmouth’s porous defense, anything is possible.