Coming off a devastating 29-point loss at Villanova, injury-riddled Stony Brook took on No. 2 FCS-ranked Towson on Friday night in their first-ever Colonial Athletic Association home game at LaValle Stadium and gave the Tigers all they could handle.
But after building an 11-point halftime lead, the Seawolves (1-3, 1-2 CAA) allowed the Tigers (5-0, 1-0) to drive 96 yards with the go-ahead score on a 32-yard TD burst by Darius Victor with 2:38 left. Towson added a 43-yard fumble return TD in the final minute for a 35-21 final that didn't really tell the story of such a hard-fought game.
"I don't know if we ran out of gas or what," Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. "We had a couple miscues in the second half, and they got field position on the [muffed punt], a couple personal fouls. But if they're No. 2 or 3 in the country, we're not far off."
The turning point came early in the third quarter when the Seawolves forced Towson to punt after its first second-half possession. Return man Jameel Poteat let the ball bounce and made the "poison" call for his teammates to stay away, but it bounded off teammate Nick Wagner, and Towson linebacker Monte Gaddis recovered at the SBU 25.
That set up an 18-yard TD pass from Tigers quarterback Peter Athens to Spencer Wilkins to cut the Seawolves' lead to 21-17. "It was a bad bounce," Poteat said. "It happens once a blue moon. It was our luck. It put the defense in a tough situation. It changed the game."
Two personal-foul penalties on SBU safety Naim Cheeseboro aided another Towson drive. The Tigers lost a touchdown pass on an illegal-block penalty but still came away with a 51-yard field goal by D.J. Soven to trim Stony Brook's lead to 21-20 at the start of the fourth.
With 7:36 left, Towson was pinned at its own 4-yard line, but that's where Tigers running back Terrance West took over. He was a major force, rushing 26 times for 150 yards and a TD, and he broke runs of 13 and 9 yards to start a 96-yard drive for the go-ahead TD on a 32-yard run by Victor that put Towson in front 28-21 after a two-point conversion.
"West was a very good running back," Stony Brook safety Christian Ricard said. "It took two guys to bring him down on every play."
Early on, it was the Seawolves who rediscovered their running game as James Kenner carried 19 times for 82 yards and a touchdown and Poteat had 18 carries for 72 yards and a TD. Through the first three games, the Seawolves had strayed from their run-first identity, and they now are without injured running backs Marcus Coker and Jamie Williams.
No matter. Priore reverted to type with four straight runs to open the game using a combination of Poteat and Kenner. The opening drive was by far Stony Brook's best of the season, covering 78 yards in 13 plays and 7:51 before Kenner punched it in from 2 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Then, on Towson's second play from scrimmage, SBU linebacker Jawara Dudley picked off a tipped pass by Athens and returned it 12 yards to the 5-yard line. Poteat powered up the middle on first down for a 14-0 lead.
Towson came back with a 33-yard field goal by Drew Evangelista on the first play of the second quarter and pulled within 14-10 with a 58-yard drive to score on a 2-yard run by West. But SBU responded with another impressive 78-yard, 13-play drive lasting 6:26. The touchdown came on a beautiful play-fake by Lyle Negron, who rolled right and hit wide-open receiver Malcom Eugene for a 4-yard TD and 21-10 halftime lead.
"We came out hot," Kenner said. "They were the No. 2 team in the country, and we gave them a heck of a fight."