The resilience that Stony Brook's football team has shown by winning three straight Colonial Athletic Association games to come back from a 1-3 start can be traced to the strength of a defense that has the Seawolves (4-4, 3-1 CAA) ranked No. 1 in fewest yards allowed in the FCS. The members of that defense say it all starts up front with a line led by end Victor Ochi and tackle Aaron Thompson.
Opposing coaches have acknowledged scheming to avoid that pair, and coach Chuck Priore said, "In the eight games we've played, those are the two best players we would have played against. There hasn't been anybody better, and that includes UConn. We're fortunate to have them on our side.''
Ochi, Thompson and the rest of Stony Brook's defense must buckle up for what is expected to be their supreme test Saturday afternoon at New Hampshire, which is ranked No. 3/5 in the FCS polls. Even with backup quarterback Andy Vailas replacing injured starter Sean Goldrich, the Wildcats (5-1, 3-0) are ranked eighth in passing (299.5 yards per game), 15th in total offense (470.0) and 16th in scoring (37.7).
"We've finally built momentum,'' Ochi said. "The offense is finally clicking and the defense has to stay focused. It's a blessing to be called No. 1 in the nation. We're trying to preserve that. It's a great test to see what we're made of this week. It's going to be fun.''
The Seawolves must respect the rushing attack with running backs Nico Steriti and Jimmy Owens, and Vailas also can take off behind a veteran offensive line that Thompson described as "very, very physical.'' A good pass rush will be critical in stopping big gainers to wide receiver R.J. Harris and tight end Harold Spears.
"We have to get to him,'' Thompson said of Vailas. "He can run the ball, too. You need to watch everything. We need to pass rush, pass rush and do not stop until he's on the floor.''
During their three-game winning streak, the Seawolves have allowed a total of only 13 points, none in the second half. Besides their No. 1 rank in total defense (220.5), they are No. 1 in tackles for losses (10.9 per game), No. 2 in scoring defense (11.0), No. 3 in rushing defense (74.0) and No. 5 in pass defense (146.5) and have allowed opponents to score a mere two touchdowns on 18 red-zone possessions.
Ochi has 101/2 tackles for loss, including five sacks, and Thompson has 10 tackles for loss and two sacks. Priore said learning to play their assignments in a disciplined style has been key to their success, and they bring a combination of physicality and athleticism to their jobs.
"Our duty every time we come off the ball is to really send a message to the offensive linemen we go up against,'' Ochi said. "Then our other players feed off our energy and we just get it rolling.''
Thompson added, "People have been doubting us, but this is a good game to show people we're the real deal. It's going to be a great test and a good game.''