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Seawolves struggle in red zone, kicking game

Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore shouts instructions

Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore shouts instructions at the Seawolves. (Aug. 11, 2011) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

BUFFALO -- There are countless variables in any football game, and that’s especially true for one that last five overtimes. But ultimately, Stony Brook’s 26-23 loss to FBS Buffalo Saturday afternoon at UB Stadium resulted from problems executing in the red zone and the kicking game.

The most obvious was placekicker Nick Ferrara’s nightmare day in which he missed three of six field goal attempts, including one from 37 yards that would have won it at the end of the fourth overtime. That is a sensitive subject, and Priore declined to discuss the troubles encountered by the transfer kicker from Maryland after the game.

“We missed two field goals early,” Priore acknowledged, “but the kids stepped up and made plays.”

That they did. The Seawolves (1-1) came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter when Ferrara converted from 23 yards and quarterback Lyle Negron completed a tying five-yard touchdown pass to wideout Malcolm Eugene with 29 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime.

But Stony Brook drives stalled at the Buffalo 27-yard line and 11-yard line before the first two misses by Ferrara, and the Seawolves had a first down at the Bulls’ six-yard line and couldn’t cross the goal line before Ferrara’s first field goal. The first-down plays in those three spots included a one-yard run by Jamie Williams, an incompletion by Negron and a one-yard run by Marcus Coker, who otherwise had a solid game with 115 yards rushing on 34 carries.

Explaining the red-zone troubles, Priore said, “Buffalo is a very good run defense team. The red zone is an area that you really need to be able to run the football. A little bit of the problem tonight was our inability to run the football. We didn’t convert today because of the type of defense they were playing and what they did.”

Given those drives as precedent, Priore still chose to play it conservative after Seawolves cornerback William Longden intercepted Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata to start the fourth overtime. With a chance to win the game, Priore handed the ball to Coker three straight times, gaining only five yards to the 20 to set up a 37-yard field goal attempt that Ferrara drove low and well left.

“If we threw the ball and it got picked off, you’d be running me out of town,” Priore said of his approach. “Put the ball in the middle of the field and make a 37-yard field goal. They put the ball on the ground in the same situation.”

Priore was referring to a fumble by Licata with a first down at Stony Brook’s 13-yard line at the end of the third overtime. Buffalo could have kicked a 30-yard field goal right there, but Bulls coach Jeff Quinn had watched his own placekicker, Patrick Clarke, miss two of four field goal attempts and wanted to get closer or get into the end zone.

So, you could say the aggressive approach and the conservative style each went awry before the game finally was decided by a six-yard scoring run by the Bulls’ Anthone Taylor at the end of the fifth OT.

Still, there were plenty of positives for Priore and the Seawolves. This might be the strongest defense he’s ever had in eight seasons at SBU. New starting safeties Christian Ricard and Naim Cheeseboro and rover Max Martinez excelled behind tough linebackers Jawara Dudley and Grant Nakwaasah.

One downer was the left knee injury suffered by cornerback Reuben Johnson at the end of a 20-yard punt return. He was CAA defensive player of the week after the shutout at Rhode Island and was having an outstanding game when he went down. There is no immediate word on the severity of the injury, but as Ricard said of the injury, “That was a killer. I love playing with him.”

The other major development is the emergence of Negron as a player who can make big-time throws to a talented receiving corps of Eugene, Adrian Coxson, Devante Wheeler and tight end Will Tye. It represents a shift to a more diverse offense than Seawolves fans have grown accustomed to under Priore.

“Our quarterback is everything you want in a starting quarterback, and he is a very competitive guy,” Priore said. “I really love his attitude and focus, and when you combine that with his skill level, I believe he was the best quarterback on the filed today.

“Part of being a sound football program is your ability to adapt to your personnel. Offensively, I think we have strength in our receivers corps’ ability to catch and our quarterback who is a gamer. We put the ball in the hands of people who are going to help us win.”

Certainly, there’s every reason to believe the winning tradition establish over the past two FCS playoff seasons can continue as the Seawolves move into the tougher CAA.

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