The difference between a decent football season and a great one for Stony Brook has been 6.6 points, less than a touchdown on average in the Seawolves' five losses. One more touchdown in each of those games would have produced three more wins and sent a fourth to overtime if the extra points had been good.
But instead of being 8-1 or 7-2 with a spot in the FCS national rankings, Stony Brook (4-5, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association) will be fighting to reach .500 against James Madison (6-3, 3-2) Saturday afternoon at LaValle Stadium. If the Seawolves can't top their season-high output of 21 points, they'll have a rough time keeping pace with the Dukes' high-powered offense led by quarterback Vad Lee.
"Obviously, we haven't won all the games we wanted to win," said Conor Bednarski, who has improved steadily since winning Stony Brook's starting quarterback job over John Kinder before CAA play began. "It feels like a season where we've been so close, but really good teams figure out how to win those games. From that point of view, the season has been disappointing."
The Seawolves primarily rely on their running game, but since taking over as the full-time starter, Bednarski ranks sixth in the CAA in passing efficiency rating (119.4) and has improved his completion percentage to 57.6 percent and average yards gained passing to 153.2.
Two weeks ago at first-place New Hampshire, Bednarski led the Seawolves to an early 14-0 lead and threw a fourth-quarter TD pass that would have tied the score at 21 if not for a missed extra point.
"I definitely think it has improved," Bednarski said of the passing game. "It's just coming together a little too late in the season. There are some big plays we missed that could have potentially changed some games. We're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot. That's been the story of the year."
Although Stony Brook has the No. 1 total defense in FCS (235.3 yards per game) and No. 3 scoring defense (12.9), it will be nearly impossible to maintain those numbers against the Dukes, who are riding a four-game winning streak. Lee is fifth in FCS in total offense (331.3) and JMU is ninth (492.7) as a team. The Dukes are averaging 33.6 points.
"He's the best player we'll play against this year by far," Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. "It's not even close. He's effective running the ball, efficient in the passing game and stays away from mistakes."
Priore understands better than anyone how close his team is to succeeding against the top CAA teams. "Probably one of the reasons we haven't won more games is because we haven't gotten enough production," he said.
Maybe that changes Saturday against JMU.