Though Stony Brook University looked poised to snap their three-game losing streak, the Bears ultimately triumphed in a thrilling 21-20 victory in the football team's 2011 season opener Saturday.
Stony Brook took control of the game early on. In the first quarter, the Seawolves held the ball for 11 minutes, scoring a field goal and setting themselves up for a touchdown less than a minute into the second quarter.
The Seawolves were able to run down the clock with a primarily rushing offense. They totalled 246 yards on the ground, compared to the Bears' meager 28.
"When you run the ball like they do, you're going to chew up a lot of the clock," said quarterback and co-captain Kyle Newhall-Caballero '11.5, returning to the field for the first time since suffering a wrist injury early last season. "That's all part of their scheme and their plan," he said, "They just want to keep the ball out of the other offense's hands. For us, that means we have to make the most of our time on offense."
Newhall-Caballero managed to do just that — in a little over a minute, between Stony Brook's two scores, he connected twice on long passes to Alex Tounkara-Kone '11.5, who ran in the second catch for a touchdown to put the Bears up 7-3 after the Seawolves' opening field goal. Newhall-Caballero completed 22 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
Just before the end of the first half, the Bears had a chance to tie the game 10-10 on a 39-yard field goal attempt, but the kick by Alex Norocea '14 sailed wide left.
Stony Brook proved its might in the second quarter, sticking to its strategy of slowly and methodically running the ball down the field. On their first possession of the second half, after several plays for small gains, running back Miguel Maysonet found a hole in the Bears' defense and ran 26 yards for the score.
The Bears were unable to convert on their next possession and had to punt the ball right back to Stony Brook. But Seawolves wide receiver Jordan Gush could not handle the boot from punter Nathan Lovett '12 and fumbled the ball, which linebacker Daniel Smithwick '12 recovered.
From Stony Brook's 46-yard line, one play was all it took for Newhall-Caballero and Tounkara-Kone to connect again for Tounkara-Kone's second score of the night. At 17-14, the Bears were again within three points of tying the game.
A defensive stop by the Bears seemed to be a sign that the tide had turned in Bruno's favor, but cornerback A.J. Cruz '13 fumbled the punt, and the Seawolves pounced on the ball. But despite starting field position at Brown's 31-yard line, the Seawolves were unable to convert and gave the ball back to the Bears.
"(The dropped punt) was a big momentum change for us," said Head Coach Phil Estes. "We can't have self-inflicted wounds."
After steadily driving down the field, Newhall-Caballero was flushed out of the pocket and lost the football. The Seawolves again recovered the ball, and this time they were able to convert into a field goal, expanding their lead to 20-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
"I think we made a lot of mistakes — we just got lucky, like on the penalties," Estes said. "We dodged a few bullets here. It just shows the resiliency of the team."
The Seawolves had 11 penalties that awarded the Bears 133 yards, compared to Bruno's seven penalties for 81 yards. On Bruno's final scoring drive, Stony Brook was flagged twice for personal fouls, worth 15 yards apiece. The free 30-yard boost helped the Bears move the ball down the field, and Newhall-Caballero was eventually able to connect with wide receiver Tellef Lundevall '13 for a 12-yard touchdown to give Brown a slim one-point lead, 21-20.
With 2:59 left on the clock, Stony Brook started marching down the field, threatening to retake the lead. The Seawolves made it to the Brown 33-yard line before co-captain defensive tackle Kyle Rettig '12 pushed Maysonet backwards five yards on a huge stop. Facing third and 15 after two incomplete passes with only a minute left, the Seawolves attempted a 55-yard field goal, but Wesley Skiffington's attempt fell short.
The defense could not hold Stony Brook to under 150 yards rushing, which was their goal, but nevertheless played exceptionally well, Estes said.
Estes pointed to Matthew O'Donnell '12 as the defensive stand-out of the game. This was O'Donnell's first start, and he led the team in tackles with 9.5, two of them for a loss.
Though happy with the win, Estes also said there are lots of things that his team needs to improve before facing off against Harvard in the team's Ivy opener Friday.
"(This game) wasn't pretty," he said. "There are lots of things we could clean up and get better at." Still, he said, "We played pretty well."