There was a moment in the second quarter Saturday night at LaValle Stadium that opened a window into the level of desperation Maine was feeling against a Stony Brook defense that was just squeezing the life out of the Black Bears' offense.
The Seawolves succeeded in downing Luke Allen's punt at the Maine 1-yard line. Most teams try to run in that situation to create a little room for the offense to operate so close to its goal line. But Black Bears coach Jack Cosgrove called three straight passes by quarterback Dan Collins. They all fell incomplete, but that actually was safer than trying to run and risking getting tackled in the end zone for a safety.
After watching video of Stony Brook's defense, which ranks No. 1 in FCS in total defense at 216.3 yards allowed per game, Cosgrove didn't even consider trying to run. Maine ran only seven times for a grand total of 1 yard through the first three quarters, and the Black Bears' passing attack wasn't good enough to go over the top in a 19-7 loss to the Seawolves.
"We're a great run-stopping defense," said Stony Brook linebacker Jeremy Leggiero, who had two of the Seawolves' three sacks. "We were expecting them to throw the ball a lot, which they did. We just continued to play our defense and get off the field."
Maine (2-4, 1-2 CAA) managed only six first downs, 18 yards rushing and 135 total yards against the Seawolves (3-4, 2-1). The Black Bears fooled Stony Brook on a 73-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game and then took a beating the rest of the way.
A defensive line led by Victor Ochi, Aaron Thompson, Ousmane Camara and Dante Allen kept the pressure on Collins, who completed 12 of 25 passes for 117 yards before being knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. His replacement, Drew Belcher, threw five incompletions.
"It all starts with the defensive line," Leggiero said. "They set the tone, and everybody follows from behind them."
Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said Maine had not run effectively in its previous three games, so the Seawolves were well-prepared for a pass-oriented attack. They held Black Bears leading receiver Damarr Aultman without a catch, and SBU cornerback Davonte Anderson intercepted a pass for the third straight game, giving him 15 career interceptions to tie the school's Division I record.
The reason Stony Brook was able to cover so effectively was the pass rush. "I wouldn't want to block them," Priore said. "Right now, we've got the mojo."
Rover back Christian Ricard said everyone on the Seawolves' defense is dancing to the beat laid down by defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill. "It's huge for us," Ricard said of the win over Maine. "The man who doesn't get a lot of credit is coach Hemphill. He schemes up these game plans, and he's three steps ahead of our opponent. Half the time, I listen to him yelling out the [opponent's] play call. It's a great feeling moving forward."
Priore credited his defensive players for performing unselfishly and never pointing fingers when the offense has struggled at times this season. In the week leading up to the Maine game, Ricard explained what it means to be unselfish on defense.
"Everyone on defense does their job, which is amazing," he said. "A lot of times, you have people trying to do their own things, trying to get outside the defense. You have to be in this gap, but you see the ball over here and you want to jump out of your gap. But nobody in our defense does that. We're very selfless. 'I don't make the play, but he does,' and we're all happy for each other. Everyone is just focusing on doing their job and trying to win the game."
That's the formula that has made the Seawolves' defense No. 1 in FCS, and they're sticking to it.