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Suddenly, defense matters for Stony Brook
There was no stopping Stony Brook’s prolific offense a year ago when the Seawolves averaged 36.2 points per game and topped the 27-point mark eight times on the way to a 10-3 record and second-round elimination in the FCS playoffs.
But their 27-3 victory Saturday night at Colgate marked the high-scoring mark for the Seawolves (3-3) through their first six games, and that total included a defensive touchdown. Before this season began, linebacker Jawara Dudley said, “I don’t think we’re going to be scoring 70 points.” That was a reference to the Seawolves’ 77-7 win over Division II Pace.
Stony Brook got off to a fast start at Colgate, scoring on three of its first four drives to take a 17-0 lead, but the offense produced only three points the rest of the way. It was a victory by the defense all the way, as all three wins have been this season. Consider that the Seawolves scored only 23 points in a five-overtime loss at FBS Buffalo (26-23).
Defense dominated a Colgate team that was missing injured quarterback Gavin McCarney and running back Jimmy DeCicco. The Red Raiders (1-3) had no first downs in the first quarter and didn’t snap the ball in Stony Brook territory until 13:15 remained in the fourth quarter.
Only a defensive holding penalty on a fourth-down incompletion allowed Colgate to get on the scoreboard with a field goal with 8:30 left. The Seawolves shut out Rhode Island in the opener and would have been the first SBU football team with multiple shutouts in a season since 1994 had they held on.
“We played disciplined and fast,” said safety Christian Ricard, who tied for the team lead with eight tackles.
Asked about the impact of Colgate playing without McCarney, Ricard said, “Of course, that hurt them. That’s the leader of their team. It’s got to be a big difference.”
But it was just a week ago that backup Jake Melville came off the bench when McCarney was injured at Cornell and led four touchdown drives in the Red Raiders’ only win this season. Melville didn’t enjoy the same success against Stony Brook, completing only seven of 19 passes for 106 yards and throwing a pick-six that safety Naim Cheeseboro returned 52 yards for a 24-0 halftime lead.
“We played our base defense the whole game,” Cheeseboro said. “We didn’t have to rush anybody.”
The Seahawks play a four-man defensive line most of the time and seldom rushed more than four. They sacked Melville three times, including sacks by defensive linemen Kevin Hauter and Aaron Thompson and by blitzing cornerback Jaheem Woods.
“Our defense isn’t like most teams,” Ricard said. “Our defensive linemen explode every play. They’re in the backfield, and they give gaps to the linebackers and safeties to fill.”
Colgate is struggling, but the Red Raiders simply were swarmed under by the Stony Brook pass rush. Colgate can say running back James Travellin gained 116 yards on 27 carries , but 76 of those yards came in the second half when the game was out of reach.
Now, Stony Brook has regained its equilibrium with a 3-3 record going to its bye week, but the Seawolves have to go 4-1 over the final five Colonial Athletic Association games , starting with high-scoring New Hampshire at home on Oct. 26, if they hope to be chosen for the 24-team playoff field by the FCS selection committee.
If they make it, defense will pave the way.