By GREG LOGAN email@example.com
SBU-USF PHOTO GALLERY
TAMPA, Fla. - Before Stony Brook's football team dipped its toe in deep BCS waters for the first time in school history, Seawolves coach Chuck Priore met with a raucous group of boosters who made the trip south for last night's game against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium. Priore told them he planned to take an aggressive approach against the Big East school.
"We're not going to take the punch,'' Priore said. "We're going to give the punch.''
The Seawolves forgot to duck on the Bulls' first offensive play of the game, a 59-yard touchdown pass from B.J. Daniels to Dontavia Bogan. But for a few blissful moments in the first quarter, it appeared the Seawolves had a puncher's chance. They converted two South Florida miscues into touchdowns on a 3-yard run by Eddie Gowins and a 27-yard pass from quarterback Michael Coulter to Hofstra transfer Brock Jackolski for a seven-point lead with 5:30 left in the first quarter.
Suddenly, it didn't seem difficult to imagine athletic director Jim Fiore's dreams of building a big-time football program coming true. But that pleasant reverie ended in a flurry of nervous rookie mistakes that fueled a 59-14 South Florida rout of the Seawolves in front of 40,201.
It brought to mind something else Priore told Stony Brook fans before the game. "I'm not a scoreboard-watcher,'' he said. "The score of the game is not indicative of our team's performance. We will represent Stony Brook correctly on the football field.''
The Seawolves certainly accomplished that much, but after losing eight defensive starters from last season's Big South co-champions, they were no match for the Bulls, who have gone to five straight bowls and wanted to impress in new coach Skip Holtz's debut. The Bulls forced four Coulter interceptions and recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. They led 31-14 at halftime and 52-14 after three quarters.
"I'd like to say the first half should have ended 17-14,'' Priore said. "The botched punt should have been a safety. But I'm proud of the way we competed.''
Priore had researched games matching schools from different levels and detected a pattern. "Most of these games are close for 11/2 quarters,'' he said. "You put a little scare into them and wake up the sleeping giant. They started blitzing more after we moved the ball.''
But oh, those first 10 minutes were sweet for Stony Brook.
Rich Vitale recovered a fumbled punt at South Florida's 35-yard line, and Coulter passed 31 yards to wideout Jordan Gush to set up Gowins' tying TD.
Then Bulls punter Justin Brockhaus-Gann dropped to one knee to field a low snap, turning the ball over at his own 27. On the first play, Jackolski slipped out of the backfield to get wide-open down the left sideline for the go-ahead TD pass from Coulter.
"It was an unbelievable feeling for playing a Big East team and we're up 14-7,'' Jackolski said. "Our fans were going crazy. Everyone was so excited.''
The Bulls might have been looking ahead to playing Florida on Saturday, but once the giant was aroused, the rest wasn't very much fun for Stony Brook, which lost starting cornerbacks Donald Portal (knee) and Al-Majid Hutchins (shoulder).
Coulter threw three of his interceptions in the second half, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The defense allowed Daniels to complete 15 of 22 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns and run for another TD as South Florida totaled 563 yards of offense.
"It's up to us to stay positive,'' Coulter said, "and not look at the scoreboard.''