If there is an indelible scar on the psyche of Stony Brook's football team that gave rise to this season's theme of "Finish," it was inflicted by William & Mary last season. Quarterback Steve Cluley threw a 52-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left to send the game to overtime, and a 13-yard run by Mikal Abdul-Saboor gave the Tribe the victory.
Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said he never referenced that fateful ending once while preparing for Saturday night's Colonial Athletic Association game in Williamsburg, Virginia, but then, he didn't have to.
"It's always in the back of our minds, but we try not to look back and dwell on it," Stony Brook linebacker Jeremy Leggiero said Friday. "It's definitely not going to happen this year. I'll tell you that.
"There's definitely some payback. They're going to get what's coming to them."
The Seawolves (2-0, 1-0 CAA) gained a measure of payback last week with a resounding 31-6 first-ever rout of defending conference champion New Hampshire, which was ranked 13th in the nation at the time.
The offense topped the 30-point mark for the second straight week, but the bedrock of SBU's success is a defense that is No. 1 in FCS total defense, allowing a mere 186.5 yards per game.
It will be tested by William & Mary (1-1, 0-0), which showed its mettle last week in a 35-29 loss at FBS Virginia. Cluley is among the national leaders in passing efficiency with a 152.7 rating. Abdul-Saboor, who had 116 yards rushing against SBU last season, is averaging 101.5 yards rushing, which ranks 22nd behind Stony Brook's Stacey Bedell (163.0), the FCS leader.
"They run a lot of tricky stuff, but we're going to adjust to it and play our game," Leggiero said. "I don't think it should be too tough."
One of the keys to containing the Tribe will be the play of Leggiero and fellow linebackers Rahim Cassell and Julian Quintin. Leggiero often comes off the bench behind the other two, but Priore considers all three starters. When Cassell suffered a mild concussion on the first play of the New Hampshire game, Leggiero stepped up with two tackles for a loss, including a sack, and six total tackles. Cassell has been cleared to play this week.
"It's a little bit of an awkward situation with the rotation, but we're all starters," Leggiero said. "We're just trying to be the best defense we can be, trying to win games and, hopefully, win the CAA."
Priore said Leggiero is just one example of the depth Stony Brook has on defense this season.
"Backups or the guys who rotate in have to understand they're starters also," Priore said. "Some kids can handle it, some can't. This team is handling it very well.
"Last week, we played three guys at weak safety, and they played 20 plays each. Victor [Ochi, a preseason All-American defensive end] hasn't played a lot of plays every game. We take him out on a regular basis and rest him so he's ready to play when the fourth quarter comes around."
The key to Stony Brook's season is likely to come in back-to-back road games this week against the Tribe and next week at No. 9 James Madison, which ranks No. 1 in total offense and scoring offense.
"Oh, absolutely," Leggiero agreed. "These are the two toughest games we'll probably be playing this year."