Reeling from three straight losses, including a five-overtime heartbreaker at FBS Buffalo and a second-half meltdown a week ago against FCS No. 2 Towson, Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore repeated one theme all week to his team: "Finish."
But when Bryant scored what should have been the tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, only to miss an extra point, the fear of a fourth straight loss was staring the Seawolves in the face.
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That's when quarterback Lyle Negron, playing with an injured throwing shoulder, responded with a clinching 41-yard touchdown pass down the middle to wide-open Devante Wheeler for a 21-13 victory Saturday night that had a record crowd of 11,224 for homecoming at LaValle Stadium in suspense to the end.
The Bulldogs (3-2) of the Northeast Conference got the ball back and drove to the Stony Brook 27, but defensive end Leston Simpson sacked quarterback Mike Westerhaus of Farmingville for a 1-yard loss on third down. After a fourth-down incompletion, the Seawolves (2-3) regained control with 3:40 left and ran out the clock.
"Pretty or not, our goal was to finish in the fourth quarter," Priore said. "We scored after they scored; we stopped them, and we got the first down . They did what we asked."
Negron was 16-for-22 for 260 yards and two TDs, and SBU outgained the Bulldogs 379 yards to 280. Wide receiver Malcolm Eugene caught eight passes for 92 yards, Wheeler had three for 77 yards and Adrian Coxson added two for 69 yards, including a 63-yard TD that gave the Seawolves a 14-7 halftime lead.
Bryant held Stony Brook to 119 rushing yards, including 48 by Jameel Poteat and 45 each by Tyler Fredericks and James Kenner. Fredericks scored on an 8-yard run on the Seawolves' opening drive of the game, but Westerhaus tied it at 7 on a fourth-down TD pass of 2 yards to Ryan Barrett.
The Seawolves blew two first-half scoring opportunities, failing on fourth-and-1 at the Bryant 9 and missing a 28-yard field goal by Nick Ferrara.
When Westerhaus dropped back to pass early in the fourth and scrambled untouched up the middle for a 13-yard TD, Bryant sensed the upset possibility despite Tom Alberti's missed PAT.
But Negron moved the Seawolves to the Bryant 41, where they faced third-and-9. They lined up with three wide receivers with Wheeler in a slot left. At the snap, two Bryant defenders were over his head, but they misread the play, and Wheeler was wide open down the middle.
"It was a cover-2 look, so I knew I was 'hot' and ran my route and adjusted it to the coverage and caught the ball and scored," Wheeler said. "I saw the middle linebacker come up, so I knew I could get over the top of him. I knew there would be a big hole right there in the middle."
Negron said Wheeler was his second read on the play, but he sensed what was coming. "He was wide open," Negron said. "I went through my progressions and he had his hand up. It was great. I was glad Devante was able to score. It gave us that extra energy for defense."
Bryant converted three crucial third-down plays to move to Stony Brook's 27, but Simpson, who said he missed a sack earlier in the game, wrapped up Westerhaus on third down for a yard loss before the final incompletion.
"All week, Coach was preaching finish," Simpson said. "He told us the game was in our hands and we had to finish. We just rallied as a defense and came up with some big plays at the end."