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Confident Stony Brook gears up for playoff game against Lehigh

A strong run in the Colonial Athletic Association gives Seawolves momentum.

Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone scrambles against Wagner

Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone scrambles against Wagner during a CAA football game at LaValle Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.

Sitting in the visiting locker room on Sept. 2 before playing the University of South Florida — the 19th-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision team — Stony Brook believed it had the talent to compete but needed to prove it on the field.

Stony Brook, a Football Championship Subdivision school, was set to receive $425,000 (as reported by Newsday’s Jim Baumbach in August) to serve as the home opener for a powerful USF team playing in the American Athletic Conference with championship aspirations.

But the Seawolves didn’t play like a team that was there only for a payout. Stony Brook put a scare into the Bulls, leading twice in the first half and tying the score at 17 in the fourth quarter before losing, 31-17.

That game convinced the Seawolves that this year could be different from the previous four seasons in the Colonial Athletic Association, when Stony Brook never won more than five games in a season.

“I think that was definitely a good confidence-booster for us, but honestly, we had the opportunity to win that game and we probably should have won,” quarterback Joe Carbone said. “We just didn’t realize how good we were until, I think, after that game. Then we really realized, ‘Wow, we can really compete with anyone.’ ”

The Seawolves continued to prove that throughout the season, posting a 9-2 overall record and finishing second to James Madison in the CAA with a 7-1 record.

Stony Brook, ranked No. 10 in the FCS STATS rankings and No. 11 in the Coaches Poll, earned its first trip to the FCS postseason since 2012 and will host Lehigh in the opening round at 2 p.m. Saturday at LaValle Stadium.

“We always knew that we had the potential to make it here,” said Carbone, who has thrown 20 touchdown passes and three interceptions this season. “Just executing and performing at our highest level when game time comes around. And this year we finally did that, so it feels special, but we know we deserve to be here. We earned this.”

Stony Brook won its final five games of the season, including a dramatic 20-19 victory over Maine last Saturday off a 35-yard “Hail Mary” pass as time expired. The Seawolves are no strangers to playing close games, going 5-1 this season in games decided by eight or fewer points.

Lehigh (5-6), which earned an automatic bid to the playoffs by winning the Patriot League championship, also made the postseason last year and scored at least 34 points in each of its final six games of the season. But the Mountain Hawks have allowed 39.4 points per game this year.

“They are very, very explosive offensively, put points on the board against everybody they’ve played,” Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. “So it will be a challenge.”

The Stony Brook defense feels ready for that challenge. “We’re not going to really change anything. We’re going to still play our game,” senior defensive back Chris Cooper said. “We know that they’re a high-powered offense. So we just want to make them uncomfortable and just play the game that we play because that has gotten us up to this point.”

Senior defensive back Tyrice Beverette will miss the first half after a targeting penalty in the second half last week, but he will be on the field in the second half. Stony Brook also will be without standout receiver Ray Bolden, out with an ankle injury.

New York Sports