It’s a long way from Stony Brook to Bozeman, Mont., and since few if any of the Seawolves have been to such a remote northern clime, a little dose of culture shock is inevitable. When the two teams tee it up for their second-round FCS playoff clash Saturday night at 7 (ET), Montana State officials expect at least 16,000 fans in 17,777-seat Bobcat Stadium.
The view of the snow-capped mountain ranges ringing Bozeman is serene as a picture postcard, but it will be anything but peaceful in the horseshoe-shaped stadium, where the fans are very close to the field but elevated much like an amphitheater. And they’ll have all day to enjoy the pregame tailgate in a parking lot where boosters have numbered spaces where they can set up their tents and cooking gear.
It’s a significant homefield advantage, especially against a non-conference team seeing this place for the first time. The Bobcats (10-1) suffered their only loss here against Big Sky rival Eastern Washington (10-1), 27-24, but the Eagles were fortunate to score on a blocked punt and an interception return just 16 seconds later in the third quarter.
Temperatures should be in the 40s going down to the 30s, and the possibility of rain could make things more difficult. But Seawolves coach Chuck Priore insisted “homefield advantage” should not be a major factor.
“It is what it is,” Priore said. “You’re on a plane for 4 ½ hours. You can’t get over the George Washington Bridge in 4 ½ hours from [Stony Brook]. Playing away from home is an issue at every level of football, but you can’t allow ‘homefield advantage’ to be in your way.
“The weather – both teams have to do it. You can say, ‘They’re used to it,’ and I’ll say, ‘Nobody is used to it.’”
Montana State coach Rob Ash said this is only the second time his team will play under the lights that were installed last year. But even though it will be dark when the game starts at 5 p.m. Mountain Time and the temperature will start to drop, Ash said it could be much worse.
“When we played Portland State, the wind chill was 4 below zero and the surface temperature was eight degrees, and that was in the daytime,” Ash said. “It’s pretty plush here now for December.”
As for the crowd, even if it falls a little short of capacity, Ash said, “It will feel full, and I think it will be an energized environment for a game.”
Over the past two seasons, Stony Brook has played in some difficult environments and performed well. The Seawolves opened the 2011 season at Texas-El Paso and lost in overtime in the Sun Bowl. In the second round of the FCS playoffs, they traveled to Sam Houston State and led the No. 1 ranked team much of the game before losing, 34-27. This season, they were ahead of Syracuse at halftime in the noisy Carrier Dome before losing, 28-17, and they won at FBS Army.
“I’ve never been to Montana,” Seawolves safety Dominick Reyes said. “I’m excited to go to a state I’ve never seen, and my parents can drive out from California. I’m aware not a lot of people have heard of Stony Brook, but we’re good and we’re going to prove we deserve to be where we’re at.”
As Reyes (pictured making playoff interception against Albany last year) sees it, the best way to do that is to contain Bobcats quarterback DeNarius McGhee, a 67 percent passer, who is the two-time Big Sky offensive player of the year. “Mainly, it’s just stopping Denarius,” Reyes said. “They have a very balanced offense. They can run at you, and then, they’ll come back with play-action. He has a very strong arm, and they run really nice route combinations. We’re going to contain him as well as we can.”