LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Stony Brook's dream season ended with a 28-14 loss at the Seawolves' field of nightmares -- Liberty University's Williams Stadium. In two previous visits, SBU lost twice by a combined score of 87-28, and the third and final time in their Big South history wasn't a charm.
The question now is whether the Seawolves (9-2, 5-1 Big South), who came in ranked No. 6 in the Sports Network poll and No. 8 in the FCS Coaches poll, will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs if the only tiebreaker scenario that favors them for the conference's automatic bid doesn't work out. SBU is assured of a tie for the Big South title, but only a loss by Liberty (5-5, 4-1) next week at VMI (2-8, 1-4) will give the Seawolves the automatic bid.
"When you go 9-2 and you're ranked sixth, I'd like to think we've done enough," Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said of his team's prospects for an at-large bid when the selection committee announces the 20-team field next Sunday. "I don't think the committee will base everything on one game, but I'm not going to politic. This one loss will not define this team."
Indeed, the Seawolves won 18 of their previous 20 games over two seasons, scored their first-ever win over an FBS team at Army and lost by 11 at Syracuse, which upset undefeated Louisville on Saturday. They came to Williams Stadium with an 11-game winning streak in Big South games, but they sure won't miss this place when they move to the Colonial Athletic Association in football next season.
Liberty had a season-low output on offense of 259 yards and managed only 10 first downs. The Flames made two big offensive plays in the first half -- a 49-yard touchdown pass from Wildcat formation quarterback Brian Hudson to fullback Desmond Rice and a 67-yard completion from starting quarterback Josh Woodrum to Pat Kelly that set up a 4-yard scoring run by Hudson for a 14-7 halftime lead.
In the second half, they turned two of Stony Brook's five turnovers into touchdowns.
Linebacker Nick Sigmon picked off Kyle Essington's pass early in the third quarter and returned it 21 yards for a 21-7 lead.
After Miguel Maysonet's 13- yard touchdown run narrowed the deficit to 21-14 with 13:31 left, the Walter Payton Award candidate fumbled while trying for extra yardage on a third-down play. Liberty safety Jacob Hagen returned it 44 yards for the clinching TD with 3:56 left.
Maysonet was held to 70 yards rushing on 25 carries and scored two TDs, including a 1-yard dive on the Seawolves' opening possession, and Marcus Coker gained 30 on eight carries. Essington completed 15 of 31 passes for 227 yards and no TDS and threw four interceptions.
The Flames were the first team all season to bottle up Maysonet, who finished the regular season with 1,721 yards rushing and 21 TDs and scored in all 11 games. "Our first-down efficiency wasn't good, and that's what we rely on," Priore said. "They have a good run defense and did a good job. You don't always have your 'A' game."
Problems with the running game and 11 penalties, many of them offensive miscues, often put SBU in third-and-long and increased pressure on the passing game. Essington's first pick ended a streak of 117 passes without an interception. Two balls were intercepted inside the Liberty 10, snuffing scoring threats, and the one returned for a TD came with Essington facing third-and-7 under pressure at his 12.
"Third-and-long killed us," said Kevin Norrell, who had five catches for 118 yards, his sixth straight 100-yard game. "We'd get some rhythm and then get a penalty or a negative play. They sent blitzes on third down, and that's hard for any quarterback. They caught us on an off day."
Now it might be up to the FCS selection committee to decide if the Seawolves' season is over. "An at-large bid would give us another chance at life," safety Dominick Reyes said. "We lost one game prior to this. It has been an amazing season, and we've had a lot of fun. Whatever happens happens."