When the final whistle blew in Stony Brook’s second-round FCS playoff loss last season at then-No. 1 Sam Houston State, the Seawolves knew they wanted to come back to make a run at a national title this season. Now, they have put themselves in position to do just that.
Stony Brook has climbed to No. 6 in the Sports Network poll and No. 8 in the FCS Coaches poll by virtue of a 9-1 record, including 5-0 in Big South play, heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Liberty (4-5, 3-1) in Lynchburg, Va. But the Seawolves need a win over the Flames to clinch the league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs because they lose most tiebreaker scenarios and multiple playoff bids for the Big South would be a first.
“It’s definitely going to be a playoff game because we have to beat them to go on to the next level and go into the playoffs,” said running back Miguel Maysonet, the Seawolves’ candidate for the Walter Payton Award. “They’re going to be pumped in front of their home crowd, but if we play our game and do what we do best, you can see we’ve handled our business thus far. So, I think we’ll be good.”
The Flames have a Big South-record 17-game home winning streak in conference games. But they lost two non-conference games at 19,200-seat Williams Stadium earlier this season to FCS ranked teams Norfolk State and Lehigh. So, even though Stony Brook is 0-2 on its previous visits to Liberty, losing by a combined 87-28 margin, beating the Flames at home is far from an impossibility.
“It will be a big game for them, and I’m sure they’ll be excited to play,” SBU quarterback Kyle Essington said. “But I love going into people’s homes and causing an upset. So, I’m looking forward to going down there and showing them how we play football.”
Technically, a Stony Brook win would not be an upset considering how the Seawolves have performed over the past two seasons. After starting 0-3 in 2011, the Seawolves won nine straight before the loss at Sam Houston State, which was No. 1 and finished as the FCS runnerup. Their only loss this season was at FBS Syracuse, where the Seawolves held the halftime lead, and their record includes a win at Army, their first-ever against an FBS opponent.
So, Stony Brook is 18-2 in its past 20 games and arrives at Liberty as a far stronger team than the one that lost to the Flames, 54-28, two years ago at Williams Stadium. It should show in the confidence level.
“They understand where we’re at as a program,” Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said of his players. “We’re 9-1. With a little better second half against Syracuse, we’d be 10-0…I think this team takes care of business. There’s a confidence level but not a cockiness level.”
A loss to Liberty wouldn’t necessarily knock Stony Brook out of the FCS playoff picture. But if the Big South’s automatic bid went to either Liberty or Coastal Carolina as a result of tiebreakers, then, it would be up to the selection committee to decide if the Seawolves belong in the 20-team field after playing in a relatively weak conference. Their performance at Syracuse and Army would help but wouldn’t guarantee a bid.
So, the Seawolves really do need to treat the Liberty game as the start of what they hope will be a long FCS playoff run to the title game in January. “We control our destiny,” wide receiver Kevin Norrell said. “If we handle this like we should, then we’ll be one step closer to our goal.”