EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Given the uncertainty at quarterback, it was almost as if Stony Brook played Connecticut with one hand tied behind its back -- the offensive hand -- for more than three quarters Saturday afternoon at Rentschler Field.
The Seawolves' defense followed coach Chuck Priore's pregame orders and punched the Huskies in the face to score an early touchdown, but it wasn't enough. UConn's Deshon Foxx choreographed a spectacular 72-yard third-quarter punt return for a touchdown that proved the difference in a 19-16 victory over Stony Brook.
Priore alternated quarterbacks John Kinder and Conor Bednarski in the second half before allowing Bednarski to lead a late 88-yard touchdown drive, but it was too little, too late.
"We certainly had our chances, and we're disappointed we didn't win," Priore said. "I think the game was ours to win. We got better this week, which was important."
If not for the special-teams breakdown, Stony Brook (0-2) would have scored its second win over an FBS school in its first-ever meeting with Connecticut (1-1). But midway through the third quarter, SBU punter Luke Allen boomed a 61-yard punt over Foxx's head.
"I said to the guy next to me, 'He just outkicked his coverage,' " UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "That is a nightmare for the special-teams coach when the punter hits a ball like that because now everything is on different levels."
Foxx chased the ball down at UConn's 28 and retreated another 6 yards before turning and heading up the right side. He split two Stony Brook tacklers, faked another on a cutback to the left and outran Allen as the Huskies took a 19-10 lead.
After the kickoff, Priore replaced starter Kinder, who had managed only two first downs, with Bednarski. When that drive went nowhere, Priore began alternating the two.
With 7:39 left, the Seawolves still had only four first downs when they got the ball at their 12-yard line.
Bednarski hit a 17-yard pass to Jahrie Level. Kinder came in and threw an incompletion. Bednarski returned and hit Level with a 7-yard pass. At that point, Priore decided to stick with Bednarski.
"Conor got a hot hand and made some plays," Priore said. "We said we'd stay with him."
Two more of Stony Brook's 12 penalties put the Seawolves in a second-and-20 situation, but Bednarski scrambled for 9 yards and hit tight end Will Tye for 11 and a first down. A 19-yard pass from Bednarski to Adrian Coxson set up Bednarski's 14-yard scoring pass to Tye, followed by a missed extra point by Przemyslaw Popek with 1:53 remaining.
"It felt good to get in a rhythm with the guys and execute the plays Coach was calling," Bednarski said. "It was a good thing to get in the end zone, but we needed one more. We came up three points short."
Until that drive, Stony Brook's defense truly was its best offense. In the first quarter, safety Max Martinez forced a fumble by Josh Marriner that safety Naim Cheeseboro recovered in the end zone for a 7-3 lead. Defensive tackle Aaron Thompson forced a fumble by UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer and recovered it at the Huskies' 20 to set up a 33-yard field goal by Popek that gave the Seawolves a 10-3 lead.
UConn regained a 12-10 halftime advantage when Whitmer hit Geremy Davis (six catches, 113 yards) with a 30-yard scoring pass. The Huskies finished with only 223 yards total offense to 300 for Stony Brook, but Foxx's punt return tipped the balance.
"I'm very proud of them," Priore said of his defense. "I told them before the game they not only needed to play good defense, they need to score some points. And they did."
Of course, it's a lot easier to win a fight with two hands. Priore declared, "There's no quarterback controversy" and said Kinder and Bednarski will share playing time against American International. But the goal is to have a regular quarterback and coherent offense when Colonial Athletic Association play begins in the fifth game.