Players and coaches of the Stony Brook football team understand they are going into a game that most figure to be the Seawolves’ final of the season, but they don’t care.
Stony Brook faces a tough task Saturday, playing at No. 1 and defending national champion James Madison in the second round of the FCS playoffs at 2 p.m. But the Seawolves don’t appear ready to back down.
“Human nature will be to say ‘Well, Stony Brook’s had a good year but’ and I think our guys are focused totally differently,” coach Chuck Priore said. “There is no ‘but’ involved. We are expecting to go up there and play well and represent correctly. And that doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but certainly we’re going in there with a ton of confidence.”
James Madison has won 23 straight games and has averaged 35.9 points per game (10th in the FCS) and an FCS-best nine points and 228.2 yards allowed per game this season. The Dukes (11-0) defeated then No. 11 Elon, 31-3, in the final game of the regular season before receiving a first-round playoff bye.
“We don’t focus on any other team and what they have going on,” said senior defensive back Tyrice Beverette, a three-year starter. “We focus on ourselves. We feel that if we have our best, we have a good chance at beating anybody.”
Based off last weekend, the Seawolves have reason to be confident. Stony Brook rushed for 354 yards and gained 622 yards of total offense in a 59-29 victory over Lehigh in the first round last Saturday. But Stony Brook, in its third playoff appearance in program history and first since 2012, has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
Whereas Lehigh ranks No. 117 out of 123 teams in rushing yards allowed per game, James Madison has the seventh-best rush defense in the country, allowing just 82.5 yards per game. Stony Brook averages 166.4 rushing yards per game with a trio of backs in Stacey Bedell, Donald Liotine and Jordan Gowins.
“This week the ability to run the football will really probably determine our ability to win this game or not,” Priore said.
Stony Brook, ranked No. 10 in the FCS STATS polls with a 10-2 record, embraces the idea that few expects the team to return to Long Island with another game to play. With the players expecting a loud, sold out crowd, they enjoy just that.
“We expect it to be a packed exciting crowd, but that’s the thing we live for,” Beverette said. “It’s football and that’s a great football game. When it’s packed out, fans getting after it. It’s not going to be in favor of us, but that’s the things we like.”
“Obviously we’ve been the underdog before and you can write us as the underdog,” said junior quarterback Joe Carbone, who has thrown 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions. “We don’t really read into that stuff too much. We approach every week the same way, take it one game at a time and really focus on what we can do and what we can control.”
The Seawolves entered the season ranked No. 8 of 12 Colonial Athletic Association teams in the preseason poll, and hope for a few more surprises.
“Each and every week we are doing something nobody believed we could do,” Beverette said. “So we just want to see how long and how far we can take this thing.”