At 2-3 after a skin-of-their-teeth 21-13 victory over Bryant Saturday night at LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook’s Seawolves have lost a little of the surface luster they began the season with when they were as high as 12th in the FCS polls. But as exciting as their clutch fourth-quarter performance was for a record Homecoming crowd of 11,224, it was even more gratifying for those in the SBU locker room who understand what it took to win.
If the Seawolves have a few dents five games into their schedule after losing starting running back Marcus Coker and starting corners Davonte Anderson and Reuben Johnson for the season, the fans don’t know the half of it. Coach Chuck Priore explained the situation this way:
“Our quarterback [Lyle Negron] hasn’t practiced in two weeks. [Linebacker] Jawara Dudley didn’t take a practice rep the last two weeks, played in both games, played with a separated shoulder today. Made a couple of great stops. Ivan May started at corner, played every down, practiced one day this week.
“So, we got some courageous efforts out there. I’m most proud of that.”
That’s the part of football that is overlooked to a large extent from week to week by fans and media focusing on the bottom line and the big plays and mistakes that determine the outcome. But Dudley, who is as hard a hitter as there is, couldn’t make it through the previous week’s loss to No. 2-ranked Towson and yet came back to lead the Seawolves with eight tackles against Bryant.
Negron suffered a separated throwing shoulder in a loss two weeks ago at Villanova and hasn’t taken a practice snap since. But he played with cool efficiency against Towson and came out slinging effectively against Bryant, completing 16 of 22 passes for 260 yards and two TDs.
“I’ve never had to play through anything like this,” Negron said after leading a clinching fourth-quarter drive that ended with his 41-yard touchdown pass to Devante Wheeler. “It’s just something that I’ve got to work through. I don’t mind playing hurt, but I’d rather it be on my left arm than my right arm.”
At that, the normally deadpan Negron permitted a hint of a smile to flit across his face.
Negron showed his toughness plenty of times earlier this season, scrambling out of the pocket and putting his head down to get more yardage instead of going down to avoid the hit. That habit makes his coach grin and grimace at the same time.
“Whether Lyle practiced or not the thing about him – as you saw when he ran and got the first down and dove for two extra yards, or on one run that reversed the field, he went out and threw a cut block – he…does…not…listen. Go down. Do not do that.
“But he’s a competitive kid. Good things happen to kids that play like he plays. He’s had a phenomenal season to date. He’s thrown for the yards. He’s accurate, his completion percentage is well above 60. You can’t ask for anything more with no practice time.”
Actually, Negron’s completion percentage now stands at 63.8 percent. He found wide receivers Malcolm Eugene, Adrian Coxson and Wheeler open all night, and when it came to crunch time, Negron threw two short passes to tight end Will Tye that had huge implications.
Holding a 14-13 lead, Negron hit Tye on third-and-two at the Stony Brook 40 barely past the line of scrimmage, and Tye muscled four yards for the first down that kept the clinching TD drive going. Then, when the Seawolves needed a first down on third-and-three at their 35 to run the clock out, Negron found Tye again for six yards.
“I wasn’t specifically looking for him, but I go through the read,” Negron said. “If he’s open, I’m throwing it to him. I know he’s going to catch the ball, too.”
Looking back on the game, it’s easy to say the Seawolves should have won far more easily. They failed on a fourth-down play at the Bryant nine-yard line and later failed to score at all after having a first down at the 10-yard line before missing a 28-yard field goal. It could have been 28-7 at halftime, game over.
“Yeah, it almost cost us the game,” Priore said. At halftime, we knew it was going to be a good game in the second half. We obviously have to get better. I’ll point to those two things, the red-zone opportunities and third down. But our third downs that we didn’t make were all on those red-zone opportunities. We made some crucial third downs later on in the game to keep drives going. We didn’t turn the ball over and made a couple plays.”
So, pretty it wasn’t. But it was a win, and more than a few Seawolves had to dig deep to overcome injury and produce a big effort when it was needed most.”
Maybe it’s a turning point, maybe not. But the Seawolves took the first big step on the tough road ahead to keep their FCS playoff hopes alive.