HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- If Stony Brook accomplished nothing else, it served notice to the Football Championship Subdivision that there's a new player on the national scene.
The Seawolves led No. 1 Sam Houston State by seven points at halftime, and even after the game turned around in the third quarter, Stony Brook twice came back from seven-point deficits to tie the Bearkats in an FCS second-round playoff game Saturday at Bowers Stadium.
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But when time ran out, Sam Houston still was standing as tall as the granite statue of its namesake at the edge of town, with its unbeaten record intact. The Bearkats (12-0) drove 83 yards to win the game, 34-27, on Tim Flanders' 7-yard run with 1:01 to play.
"It was a dogfight from beginning to end,'' Bearkats safety Darnell Taylor said. "[Stony Brook] was the best offense we played all season. They schemed us, and they had good guys. They're a good team.''
Sam Houston's team motto is "prove it,'' which the Bearkats did. But the Seawolves (9-4), who had won nine straight games, proved they belonged.
Stony Brook took a 10-3 halftime lead on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Essington to Matt Brevi and a 32-yard field goal by Wes Skiffington. The scoring plays were set up by runs of 30 yards by Miguel Maysonet and 65 yards by Brock Jackolski as SBU rolled up 121 first-half rushing yards on the nation's top rushing defense (59.0).
It was the first time Sam Houston had trailed at halftime all season, and the seven-point margin tied its largest deficit.
But everything changed in the third quarter when Stony Brook went three-and-out on its first three possessions and punted into a wind gusting to 20 miles per hour. Starting at the SBU 42 after Skiffington's 23-yard punt, Sam Houston tied it on a 5-yard pass from Brian Bell to Richard Sincere and then drove 57 yards to go ahead 17-10 on Bell's 5-yard run.
"It's always tough when you have a short field to defend,'' said Seawolves linebacker Grant Nakwaasah, who had a terrific game with eight tackles, including three for losses. "They made adjustments at halftime and we didn't come up with the plays we needed.''
Sam Houston held SBU to 150 yards rushing for the game and only 29 in the second half, when the Seawolves had the ball for just 11:30. Jackolski finished with 86 yards on 14 carries and Maysonet had 73 on 16 carries.
"As soon as we came through the hole, their safeties were coming down real hard,'' Jackolski said. "It was frustrating, but it opened up the passing game.''
Essington completed only 9 of 29 passes, but they went for 226 yards, two touchdowns and a series of big plays.
After the teams traded field goals early in the fourth quarter to leave the Bearkats in front 20-13, Essington hit Brevi for 38 yards to set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Norrell that tied the score at 20.
On Sam Houston's next play, Bell's pump fake got Stony Brook cornerback Donald Porter to bite up, and Bell hit Trey Diller running wide-open down the right side for an 80-yard touchdown and a 27-20 lead.
"The biggest thing in the game was the field position in the third period and the big play we gave up after we tied it up,'' Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. "They faked a bubble pass. Our corner came down to play the bubble, and our safety came down. It's human error. They executed it. They deserve it. It was a good call on their part.''
But the Seawolves were undaunted, driving 73 yards -- helped by a 45-yard completion to Norrell -- and scoring on Jackolski's 2-yard run to tie it at 27 with 6:37 remaining. A pass-interference penalty on Taylor on fourth-and-9 set up the score.
"Our offense, we're fighters,'' Essington said. "Last week, we were down [by 18] against Albany and came back.''
But in the final six minutes, Sam Houston proved why it's No. 1. The Bearkats gained 68 yards on the ground in their winning drive, including a couple of key option runs by Bell.
"They played cover, and it allowed Brian to run more options than usual and he made good decisions,'' Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. "We didn't play great, but Stony Brook had a lot to do with that.''