Stony Brook couldn’t have started worse. And it couldn’t have finished better.
The Seawolves continued their ascent up the 2018 national rankings with their biggest step yet. SBU, ranked No. 18 on the STATS FCS poll, staged a stunning comeback from a three-touchdown deficit to overtake No. 13 Villanova for a riveting 29-27 CAA victory Saturday before 7,720 at LaValle Stadium.
EJ Fineran needed all of his 6-4 length in the final minute to bat away a two-point conversion attempt with 56 seconds to play to lock down a win that included Stony Brook scoring 29 unanswered points and a John Haggart sack in the end zone for a safety that broke a 21-21 tie.
The Seawolves (4-1, 2-0) played a phenomenal second half and looked like they might have locked this one up when quarterback Joe Carbone hit tight end Cal Daniels for a 5-yard touchdown with 4:13 to play.
The Wildcats (3-2, 0-2) struck back with backup quarterback Jack Schetelich throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett McClenton. Each team used a timeout before the two-point conversion attempt and Fineran said the message from the staff was about control.
“Relax and focus on your job and do what you have to do,” he said. “Don’t let the moment scare you. Don’t overwhelm yourself and just play football. We weren’t thinking about overtime, just doing our job . . . It was the play we needed to stop them on and after that it was like, ‘Yes, it’s over.’”
Zachary Lucas fell on the onside kick for SBU to complete the win.
Stony Brook prevailed for the fourth straight time largely on the play of Carbone, who was 20-for-35 passing for 270 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Julius Wingate. Villanova succeeded in halting the 100-yard rushing streaks of Donald Liotine and Jordan Gowins at three each by daring SBU to beat them with the pass.
“I like the challenge. I never try to make the moment bigger than it is. It’s a football game,” Carbone said. “I’m going to play for my team. I don’t want to let them down. We got the win tonight and that’s all that matters to me.”
The first half was all Villanova until the last five minutes. The Wildcats rolled up more than 300 yards of offense and led 21-0 despite missing a field goal. But Carbone drove the Seawolves for a 15-yard touchdown pass to Wingate with 1:51 left in the half and the SBU defense forced ’Nova to punt on the ensuing possession. The comeback was on.
“When I walked into the locker room, you would have thought we were up 21-0. That’s a little bit of their belief in being successful,” SBU coach Chuck Priore said. “This group has won quite a few games and I think it’s contagious now. I am just proud of them.”
“By halftime, we felt we could run with these guys,” Haggart said. “We changed our energy and everyone was rallying and making plays.”
Haggart had a pair of sacks, including what might have been the biggest play of the game: forcing Wildcats starting quarterback Zach Bednarczyk to make a throw that was ruled intentional grounding from his own end zone. That call resulted in a safety and a 23-21 Stony Brook lead with 1:31 to play in the third quarter.
“John makes plays. He’s been making them for four years. There’s always somebody making a play,” Priore said. “Andrew Trent (122 yards receiving). Ju-ju Wingate. Zach Lucas falling on that ball at the end? They make plays.”
Carbone invoked some of the bad feelings about the season-opening 38-0 loss at Air Force to explain why Stony Brook wasn’t out at 21-0. “We all agreed no one is ever going to break us,” he said. “They didn’t. We regrouped.”