The cold, hard facts say Stony Brook’s 31-13 loss to 20th-ranked New Hampshire dropped the Seawolves to ninth place in the 11-member Colonial Athletic Association with a 1-3 record (3-4 overall), and they have yielded an average of 33.7 points in losses to ranked teams Villanova, Towson and UNH.
The eyes tell a slightly different story. SBU was blown out at Villanova after season-ending injuries to running back Marcus Coker and cornerback Reuben Johnson, their best players on offense and defense in the first two games of the season. But the Seawolves held a 21-10 halftime lead on Towson and overcame several first-half mistakes to cut their deficit against New Hampshire to 19-13 with three minutes left in the third quarter on Saturday evening at LaValle Stadium. Both were winnable games.
“You can’t make mistakes versus quality teams,” Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. “With three minutes left in the third quarter, it’s a 19-13 game. With all those mistakes, we’re close. But we’re obviously not an efficient team. That falls on my shoulders and our ability to not make those mistakes. Give the other team credit on some of it…They let us in the game, and [late in] the third quarter, it’s a one-score game. They put a drive together.”
The cold, hard fact is that, once Stony Brook made a game of it, pulling within six on Will Tye’s 8-yard touchdown catch with 3:33 left in the third quarter, the Wildcats turned it up several notches and pulled away. Yes, the Seawolves have serious injury problems that have compromised this season, but Wildcats quarterback Sean Goldrich is the backup playing because of an injury, and they were without three-year starter at center Mike Coccia, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.
The Seawolves’ defense had a right to feel it did a pretty good job, sacking Goldrich four times and holding the Wildcats to 336 yards total offense, 123 yards below their average per game. But there really was no denying New Hampshire’s response to pressure from Stony Brook or from Villanova the previous week.
When push came to shove, the Wildcats responded to Stony Brook’s last touchdown with two straight TD drives of their own to put the game away. “I give it to them. It was a good drive, and they scored,” linebacker Reggie Francklin said of the 75-yard drive for a 25-13 lead. “It was close, and we just couldn’t stop them from scoring…We had them, but we didn’t seal the deal. That’s on us.”
Priore recalls what it was like when the Seawolves were the ones making the plays when they needed them to win at least a share of the past four Big South titles. But now, his team is falling agonizingly short at crunch time.
“What defines you as not being great is when you make those mistakes down there,” he said of an offense that hasn’t scored more than 27 points in any game this season. “They’re not made on purpose. They just happen. Then, you press a little bit, and guys want to make plays, and nothing works.”
Looking at the larger picture, including the errors his team made on defense and special teams, Priore added, “To be honest, I’m not upset at how our team played. I’m just upset that we made mistakes that you can’t afford to make.”
In the old seven-team Big South, the only opponents that routinely presented problems were Liberty and Coastal Carolina. But the CAA is strong top to bottom with five teams ranked last week in the top 20 and three others, including SBU, receiving votes. Unfortunately for Stony Brook, its schedule includes all five top-20 teams.
“It’s a credit to the teams you’re playing that are being successful,” Priore said when asked about the tougher level of competition. “They’re obviously quality teams. We fear none of them. We’ve competed with them all. I’m pleased with where we are athletically and physically. We’re a couple of plays away from being a little bit better, and we’ll go to the drawing board and figure that out.”
There is a very remote chance the Seawolves could make the FCS playoffs for the third straight season if they win their last four games, including next Saturday’s date at No. 11 Maine, which leads the CAA at 4-0 and is 7-1 overall. But Priore can’t afford to look that far down the road.
As he explained, “I’m just worried about winning one in a row.”