The difficulty of stepping up in class from the Big South to the Colonial Athletic Association in football hit home hard for Stony Brook in a 31-13 loss to New Hampshire on Saturday at LaValle Stadium.
It was the Seawolves' third straight conference loss to an FCS top-20 team, and they play next at No. 11 Maine.
Not that SBU (3-4, 1-3 CAA) isn't on equal footing. The Seawolves, who beat CAA champ Villanova last year in the first round of the FCS playoffs, put themselves in position to win Saturday when Lyle Negron threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Will Tye to cut the deficit to 19-13 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
But that's where the class of a battle-tested program like New Hampshire (4-3, 3-1) kicked in. The Wildcats have been to the FCS playoffs nine straight seasons, the longest such streak in the nation, and they made it clear they're determined to make it 10 straight.
New Hampshire responded with a 75-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sean Goldrich to wideout Justin Mello on the last play of the third period. The Wildcats led 25-13 after a two-point conversion pass failed.
After forcing a three-and-out by the Seawolves' inconsistent offense, the Wildcats increased their lead to 31-13 on a 36-yard TD pass from Goldrich to a wide-open Mello.
"We did some things offensively that did not allow us to score points," Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. "Against this team, you've got to score points. We competed, but we need to get better."
Goldrich completed 15 of 29 passes for 186 yards and no interceptions and rushed 15 times for 36 yards. Mello had eight catches for 110 yards and a career-high three TDs, and running back Nico Steriti gained 69 yards on 19 carries.
Negron had a rough day, going 9-for-24 for 129 yards and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble.
James Kenner led the Seawolves with 113 rushing yards on 26 carries. Tyler Fredericks added 53 yards on 10 carries.
Negron has been battling an injury to his throwing shoulder. "I'm sure he won't make any excuses, but he's not 100 percent," Priore said. "It is what it is, and we're going to play with him because he's a competitor and a winner."
Stony Brook managed only two field goals of 21 and 33 yards by Graham Ball as the Wildcats took a 16-6 halftime lead, thanks to two kicking-game mistakes by the Seawolves.
Long snapper Kevin Fennell sailed a snap over the head of punter Nick Ferrara and out of the end zone for a safety. The ensuing free kick positioned New Hampshire at its 39, and Goldrich's 23-yard scramble on third-and-21 led to a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mello for a 9-3 lead.
In the second quarter, a partially blocked punt by Ferrara fluttered 22 yards to the New Hampshire 49. The Wildcats covered the distance in seven plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by Chris Setian.
Asked if this game defined the difference the move to the CAA has made, Seawolves linebacker Reggie Francklin said: "It's different, but the issue is that we can't make mistakes. That's what's killing us. There were moments in the game that we had them . . . We were there; I don't care what nobody says."