Toward the end of the first half, Stony Brook's struggles against defending Colonial Athletic Association champion New Hampshire looked eerily similar to the Seawolves' first two seasons in the conference. They had dominated on defense, but a Wildcats touchdown with 11 seconds remaining in the half cut SBU's lead to four points.
Coach Chuck Priore's motto for this season was "Finish," and the Seawolves did that in grand style, scoring with one second left in the opening half and adding two more third-quarter touchdowns on the way to a 31-6 blowout in the CAA opener for both teams on Saturday night. The 13th-ranked Wildcats, who have made the FCS playoffs 11 straight years and reached the semifinals last season, are the highest-ranked team the Seawolves ever have beaten.
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"It's a step Stony Brook football needs to take," Priore said. "This is our third year in [the CAA]. We've been in a lot of games, but the reality is we had to figure out not a way to lose but how to win. That was the exclamation point tonight...The biggest thing is the kids expected to win. There wasn't that 'hope' factor. Honestly, they expected to win."
Stony Brook (2-0) built a 10-0 lead on a 3-yard scoring pass from backup quarterback Joe Carbone to wide receiver Ray Bolden and a 32-yard field goal from Przemyslaw Popek. But the Seawolves also squandered outstanding field position when they were stopped on downs at the New Hampshire 29, fumbled at their own 40 and fumbled again on first-and-goal at the Wildcats' 5-yard line.
UNH was without injured starting quarterback Sean Goldrich and eventually went to third-string quarterback Adam Riese, who direct an 80-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard TD pass to Rory Donovan before the Wildcats missed a two-point conversion for a 10-6 deficit with 11 seconds before halftime.
But Stony Brook's Darin Peart fielded a squib kick and returned it 60 yards before he was pushed out at the UNH 24 with one second on the clock. Priore sent in starting QB Conor Bednarski, who threw a perfect fade to Bolden in the right corner of the end zone for a 17-6 halftime lead.
"Field goals don't win games, so, we went for it," Priore said.
Bolden, who caught seven passes for 102 yards, said of Bednarski, "Right away, he let me know he was coming my way. It was bad football by the defensive back. I gave him a move at the 10-yard line, and he just stopped...We had to capitalize. We were playing the conference champs."
The Seawolves managed another stunning reversal early in the third quarter when safety Kye Morgan stopped Wildcats running back Dalton Crossan, the former Sachem North star, for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the SBU 26. Two plays later, Stacey Bedell broke a 57-yard run to the UNH 9-yard line to set up a 4-yard scoring run by Donald Liotine for a 24-6 advantage. Just before the end of the third quarter, Bedell broke a 51-yard touchdown run for the final margin.
When Bedell was at Floyd High School, he had a storied rivalry with Crossan, winning two Suffolk County Class I titles against Sachem North. Bedell got the best of the matchup Saturday night with 193 yards rushing compared to Crossan's 40 rushing yards, 34 yards receiving and 48 kickoff return yards.
"The defense played big, and the offense had to step up and make a play," Bedell said of his momentum-shifting 57-yard run.
As for his friendly rivalry with Crossan, he added, "I wasn't looking for numbers. We wanted to win the game. It's important to start the conference with a win."
Defensive end Victor Ochi, who recorded 3.5 sacks among his team-high 11 tackles for a defense that allowed only 75 rushing yards and 253 yards of total offense, agreed the win was important for the Seawolves to establish themselves as a legitimate CAA contender.
"The biggest issue we had last year was finishing," Ochi said. "We were ready to ball. We're so determined to get a championship this year."