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Stony Brook football hosts No. 21/22 Delaware for opening night showdown

The Stony Brook football team celebrates a victory over Maine on Oct. 22, 2022. The Seawolves will open their 2023 season tomorrow versus Delaware. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Coming off its worst season in program history, the Stony Brook football team will look to start its 2023 campaign on the right foot against elite competition.

The Seawolves are set to open their season at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium this Thursday at 7 p.m. against the No. 21/22 Delaware Blue Hens in a Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) matchup. Stony Brook finished last season at the bottom of the CAA standings, while Delaware went 8-5 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs. Despite being in the same conference, the teams did not square off last year. The Seawolves and Blue Hens last met in 2021 and Stony Brook upset Delaware — who were ranked No. 14/15 at the time — beating them 34-17 at LaValle.

Delaware comes into the contest with a reputation for boasting a strong defense and top-tier quarterback play. Last season, the Blue Hens’ defensive unit finished third in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in total defense (282.6 yards allowed per game) and fourth in scoring defense (18.2 points allowed per game). Both of those numbers were the best in the CAA.

However, Delaware is entering the 2023 campaign with some question marks. Nine of its starters from 2022 are not returning, including linebacker Johnny Buchanan and safeties Noah Plack and Kedrick Whitehead — all of whom were 2022 All-CAA First Team selections. Cornerback Justis Henley — a 2022 All-CAA Second Team honoree — is also gone.

One defender who will be returning for Delaware is defensive lineman Chase McGowan. Coming off a season in which he earned All-CAA Third Team honors, McGowan was named a 2023 All-CAA Preseason Honorable Mention. Last season, he picked up 30 tackles — 9.5 of which were for a loss — a pair of pass breakups and five sacks. After allowing 32 sacks last season, Stony Brook’s offensive line is featuring a new starter at every position, potentially giving McGowan a favorable matchup.

Delaware had to revamp most of its defense with transfers. The Blue Hens’ most notable acquisitions are cornerbacks Khalil Dawsey and Tyron Herring. Dawsey broke up seven passes with Harvard last year, helping him earn a 2022 All-Ivy Honorable Mention. Herring averaged 6.3 tackles per game while also picking up an interception and three pass breakups for Dartmouth.

The Seawolves have a chance to expose Delaware’s unproven secondary. However, a lot of that responsibility falls on an unproven commodity of their own in quarterback Casey Case. Stony Brook’s new starter spent three seasons at Buffalo, but did not attempt a pass.

Despite the uncertainty, head coach Chuck Priore is excited to see what Case can do come Thursday.

“Casey is a three-year veteran as a number two guy,” Priore said in a press conference on Monday. “He’s extremely bright from the shoulders up. He delivers the ball, he can get the ball out of his hand as soon as possible, he’s athletic enough to extend plays and our kids have a lot of confidence in him, as well as our coaches.”

Stony Brook will be displaying a brand-new playbook with offensive coordinator Andrew Dresner making his debut as the team’s play-caller. Some players who will likely be getting targets from Case will be wide receivers Jayce Freeman, Anthony Johnson and Dez Williams. Running backs Jayden Cook and Jadon Turner will likely be featured in trick plays and get involved with the passing game, as well.

Stony Brook’s running back group will look to give Case something to lean on in his first career start. After being riddled with injuries last season, the unit is finally healthy and ready to make an impact. Running back Roland Dempster will be the team’s lead back after missing the 2022 season due to injury. As a backup in 2021, Dempster rushed for 334 yards and finished fourth in the CAA in yards per carry (5.6).

Running back Ross Tallarico will be the first one off the bench in the backfield. He led the Seawolves with 602 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season while also catching 13 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns.

Like Stony Brook, Delaware also has a new quarterback this season after long-time starter Nolan Henderson graduated.

Though the season is rapidly approaching, Delaware head coach Ryan Carty revealed that he is still undecided on who will be at the helm of the Blue Hens’ offense.

“It will be between either Ryan O’Connor or Zach Marker,” Carty said. “Those two guys have both had very outstanding camps. I think our team is confident in either … But neither of them have taken snaps in a FCS football game in a significant manner. We need to feel them out and see which one of those guys can do it for the long haul.”

On 27 pass attempts last year, O’Connor threw for 170 yards and a touchdown. Marker is coming off a strong season at Iowa Central Community College where he threw for 1,342 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions on 178 attempts. He also rushed for 411 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 70 carries.

Whoever ends up being Delaware’s starting quarterback will have a star wide receiver in Jourdan Townsend to throw to. He earned All-CAA Third Team honors last season and was named to the Preseason All-CAA Team this year. Townsend ranked eighth in the conference in receiving yards (698) and 10th in receiving touchdowns (6) last season.

Luckily for the Blue Hens, the Seawolves’ secondary was the second-worst in the CAA in 2022. They allowed 26 touchdown passes while intercepting just three. Only one defensive back — cornerback Quenton Porter — recorded an interception. The unit allowed 251.3 passing yards per game.

They did add several corners and safeties in the transfer portal, so the unit will likely look very different. Perhaps the biggest addition was safety Cory Gross Jr., who was a multi-year starter at Buffalo.

Delaware’s main point of offensive attack generally takes place through the air, but the team also has a solid ground game in place. In 2022, running back Kyron Cumby was tied for eighth in the conference in yards per carry (6.2) while rushing for 625 yards and four touchdowns.

The Seawolves are well-equipped to stop the run. Last year, Stony Brook finished with the third-best run defense in the CAA. The group is led by middle linebacker Aidan Kaler, who was named a 2023 All-CAA Honorable Mention after recording 60 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. The team also returns defensive tackle Taylor Bolesta, who recorded seven tackles for loss in 2022. Defensive ends Andy Nwaoko, Anthony Williams, Rodney Faulk and Davon Bomar will have a good matchup on the edge, as Delaware allowed the third-most sacks in the conference last year.

The Blue Hens also have an effective special teams unit. Delaware kicker Alex Schmoke made 18 of his 22 field goals last year (81.8%) and led the Northeast Conference with 102 total points scored. Delaware punter Ryan Kost led the CAA in average yards per punt (48.1) last year. Both were named 2023 All-CAA Preseason Team members.

In order to upset the Blue Hens on opening night, Priore said the team must stick to its brand of physical, gritty football.

“Be mentally tough in those conflict situations, take advantage of the home crowd and just work hard,” Priore said. “They’re a good football team, as we all know, and so are we.”

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About the Contributor
Anthony DiCocco, Assistant Sports Editor
Anthony DiCocco is an Assistant Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a sophomore majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports derives from years of playing dek hockey and watching his favorite teams, the New York Islanders, New York Mets and New York Jets. He is the beat reporter for Stony Brook’s hockey and softball teams. He has also covered football, men’s lacrosse and men’s soccer. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of his high school newspaper the Devil’s Tale at Plainedge High School. He is a local product from North Massapequa, N.Y.
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