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Chuck Priore's masterpiece
Stony Brook football coach Chuck Priore heard Liberty coach Danny Rocco's comments loud and clear in the week leading up to the Big South title game Saturday evening at LaValle Stadium. Sure, Rocco praised Stony Brook's running game and the ability of Seawolves quarterback Kyle Essington to throw the complementary pass.
But Rocco said that wouldn't happen against the Flames. He said they'd slow down the Seawolves' offense just as they did a year earlier in a 54-28 victory at Liberty. Well, Rocco was right to an extent. The Flames broke Stony Brook's streak of six straight games with at least 42 points. But that came as cold consolation to Rocco after the Seawolves scored a 41-31 victory to take the league title and the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
"From my chair, I think there was an expectation by Liberty that they deserved to go," Priore said. "They felt this was their year. I think we worked to go, and that was the difference today." Sarcastically, Priore added, "I guess we can't throw, and we can't run against them."
The record shows Stony Brook ran up 537 yards of total offense. Miguel Maysonet rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown; Brock Jackolski ran for 121 yards and a TD and caught another 14-yard TD pass, and Essington (pictured) passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns. The Seawolves had touchdown drives of two plays and 28 seconds, five plays and 1:22 and two plays and 33 seconds in the first half. In the second half, they sustained long TD drives of 10 plays and 12 plays.
Truly, it was a masterpiece of game-planning by Priore, who knew Liberty had a week off, giving Rocco extra preparation time. So, the Seawolves not only came out wearing new black jerseys but also doing things on offense differently than they have most of the season.
The jerseys provided a psychological boost when they were distributed 10 minutes before Stony Brook took the field. "We wanted to give the kids a special moment," said Priore, who thanked the administration for footing the bill for the change. "I said, 'Wear 'em, we're proud of you. Now, let's go kick butt. You should have seen their eyes. They were excited, but I think we would have won anyway."
Jerseys don't execute; players do. And the Seawolves played a turnover-free game and clearly had Liberty's defense confused much of the game. "We've been traditonally running into the boundary and using short throws," Priore said of the offensive style. "We flipped all of our tendencies. We ran quarterback bootlegs to the middle of the field and gave our backs more room to run in the middle instead of letting [Liberty] use the sideline as a defender."
Essington often rolled to his left before squaring to throw to receivers, who generally were running wide-open. Kevin Norrell caught five passes for 85 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown, Matt Brevi caught two for 63, including a 49-yard TD, and Jordan Gush caught four for 43 yards. Together, their yardage was less than the 240 yards Flames wide receiver Chris Summers gained on 10 catches, but Summers never reached the end zone.
"I will match our three wide receivers against any three in our conference," Priore said. "We don't throw as much, so, they don't get the accolades. But Summers didn't get to the end zone, and Norrel did. You've got to finish plays."
As for the success of the running game, Priore said, "I said to the coaches I was confident in our ability to run."
After the game, Essington said he believes the Seawolves are as good as any team in Division I-AA when they are playing together the way they did against Liberty. When Priore was asked how he felt about that remark, the coach said, "Here's what I know. I know our plus-minus ratio [now plus-16 on turnovers] is top five in the country. If we continue to do that, we're as good as anybody."