On the surface, Stony Brook’s move up to the Colonial Athletic Association, regarded by some as the SEC of the Football Championship Subdivision, looks pretty rough after four games. The Seawolves are 1-3 overall and 1-2 in CAA play after blowing an 11-point halftime lead in a 35-21 loss to No. 2-ranked Towson Saturday night at LaValle Stadium.
They are a little wobbly after three straight losses, including a five-overtime heartbreaker at FBS Buffalo and a 35-6 blowout just over a week ago at CAA favorite Villanova. But the four-game opening stretch has been brutal, and Stony Brook has been terribly banged up.
Running back Marcus Coker is out for the season with an abdominal injury, and his backup, Jamie Williams, is on the shelf for a month with a rib injury. Against Towson, star linebacker Jawara Dudley suffered a separated shoulder, tried to play with it in the third quarter and had to come out, and the other starting linebacker, Reggie Francklin, left in the third with a sprained ankle. No telling yet how serious those injuries are.
And yet, Stony Brook looked like its old, power-running self for the first time this season against Towson. Backup running backs James Kenner (19 carries-82 yards-1 TD) and Jameel Poteat (18-72-1) did a bang up job along with the offensive line of re-establishing the ground game. Quarterback Lyle Negron was efficient in completing 12 of 16 passes for 118 yards and a TD to wideout Malcolm Eugene (5 catches-53 yards-1TD), and tight end Will Tye caught five balls for 51 yards.
Despite their injuries, the Seawolves showed by their effort against a Towson team that beat FBS UConn by 15 points this year and scored 20 points in a loss last season at powerful LSU that Stony Brook can compete with the best teams at the FCS level and in the CAA.
“We have to stay positive,” said safety Christian Ricard, who had eight tackles against the Tigers. “We have a great team. We’ve just had a few unlucky breaks. I feel we’re just as good as any other team we’ve played. Our record doesn’t reflect that at all.”
Asked if the Seawolves can return to the FCS playoffs for the third straight season when all is said and done, Ricard didn’t hesitate. “We play in one of the best conferences. We just have to get on a streak. Without a doubt, we’re a playoff team.”
Stony Brook gets a break from the CAA wars the next couple weeks, but the schedule doesn’t exactly go soft. The Seawolves’ homecoming opponent on Saturday is a Bryant team that is 3-1 and is coming off a 47-28 rout of defending Northeast Conference champion Wagner. Then, SBU travels to Colgate, which is off to a shocking 0-4 start but still has quarterback Gavin McCarney and should be tough at home.
Those two games are where the Seawolves must turn their season around and try to even their record at 3-3. If Poteat and Kenner and the offensive line can run the ball as well as they did against Towson and develop even more consistency, a turnaround certainly is possible.
Poteat said Seawolves coach Chuck Priore told his team the day after the Villanova blowout that they were going to get back to running the football consistently. That has been the formula that has worked for him in eight seasons at SBU.
“The offensive line did a heck of a job. They came off the ball low and hard, and James and myself took the challenge,” Poteat said. “With Marcus and Jamie being out, it was a big question mark. So, we have to step up. We tried hard.”
Kenner added: “Coach said my chance was going to come. I was working out every day and believing in the coach because I knew he was going to give me a chance. I tried to take advantage of it.”
Priore was pleased by the way his offense executed and controlled the ball for 32:49. He praised backup linebackers Julian Quintin and Jeremy Leggiero for replacing Dudley and Francklin and “playing their butts off.” He gave Towson credit for overcoming an 11-point deficit but noted it really was a 21-20 game midway through the fourth quarter.
And like Ricard, Priore believes this Stony Brook season is far from over. “It’s going to hurt,” Priore said of the Towson loss. “It hurts right now. Everybody is tired, they put a great effort in, and you want to win. It will be a gut check to come back, but we’ll just prepare real hard.”